Electric Vehicles and Emergency Responders

Article and photos by Jason Emery

From the 2010 vehicle extrication e-Newsletter, sponsored by

 
Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) have dominated the market of alternative
ly fueled vehicles over the past several years. Although they are a minority of the overall number of vehicles sold today, hybrids are slowly increasing their market share. As a matter of fact, during the economic downturn and the resulting decrease in automotive sales, hybrids saw a lower percentage decrease than standard model vehicles.
 

This year will mark the release of the first mass-marketed electric vehicles (EVs). The 2011 models of the Nissan Leaf (photo 1) and the Chevy Volt (photo 2) are expected to be released toward the end of 2010, and more companies will be releasing their EVs in the near future. Preorders of the Leaf have already reached the 13,000 cutoff mark, and Nissan will begin production for the United States this year. Additionally, we will soon begin to see the introduction of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) (photo 3). As we draw close to the end of the year, you will undoubtedly begin to see more information on these vehicles released by the manufacturers or in trade journal articles. 

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The Importance of Training
 
Now more than ever it is important that fire departments stay focused on preparing emergency responders for handling HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs. It is important that we understand the difference between perceived issues
and actual issues associated with these vehicles. As emergency responders, we are often asked about potential dangers by members of the public and the media. When responding to these requests, make sure that you do so with the facts and not speculative response. In the long run, it does a disservice to the public and to the credibility of the fire service when we speak without sound basis in fact. When researching these topics, especially online, make sure that the information comes from a credible source. Unfortunately, as with any topic, there is always questionable information out there. This is evident by some of the less-than-accurate Internet content that is still circulating from the early days of hybrid vehicles.
 
Become Involved
 
Many if not all states are beginning to formulate committees or groups to investigate the impa
ct that EVs may have on their infrastructures. Decisions such as where to put charging stations, how the state electrical code should handle them, and the potential impact on the electrical grids are issues currently being addressed. It is important that we also become involved as representatives of the emergency services so that our point of view can be heard and we can have some impact prior to decisions being made.
 
In May of this year, I was lucky to have the opportunity to become involved with Connecticut’s
Electric
Vehicles Infrastructure Council
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (DOT) representatives to the council had been
was responsible for identifying issues relating to these vehicles and emergency response. Working with them, we were able to accurately portray the concerns of first responders regarding HEVs and EVs. Partnering with groups in your state’s legislative body is an important part of having your voices heard. Among the ideas discussed were universal shutdown locations and badging requirements. Although the state government does not necessarily have the authority to implement such changes, it is at least a good starting point to create dialogue. Another idea discussed was to use a color-coded system on license plates to identify the vehicle as being an alternatively fueled vehicle. This system would require each type of fuel to display a different color for easy identification.
 

Additionally in Connecticut, the Regional Electric Vehicle Initiative forum (REVI) was held; representatives from Ford, Toyota, Mitsubishi, BMW, GM, and Nissan attended. Each representative presented information on the company’s respective electrical vehicle programs. Several of these manufacturers also brought vehicles with them to display (photos 4-5). Attending functions such as this in your area is an easy way to become familiar with the up-and-coming technologies.

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Car manufacturers have made serious investments in research and development for EVs and other alternative
ly fueled vehicles and will continue to do so. It is clear that these types of vehicles are here to stay and that they will grow in numbers in the coming years. It is important that emergency responders become familiar with the correct procedures for responding to incidents involving these vehicles. It is also important that we get in at the ground level to work with our respective state governments to ensure that they have an accurate picture as to our ability to handle these incidents.
 
 
Jason Emery has been with the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department for 15 years and is a lieutenant on the city’s rescue/hazmat company. He is a 19-year veteran of the fire service and a certified fire instructor. He holds a bachelor’s degree in fire science from the University of New Haven and is a member of ISFSI. He has taught extensively on  hybrid vehicles and is an FDIC lecturer. He is the founder of Emergency Training Solutions, LLC and is the lead PowerPoint® designer for the Fire Engineering Handbook for Firefighter I & II curriculum.  He can be reached at
jason@etsrescue.com
.

2010 vehicle extrication e-Newsletter sponsored by Holmatro.

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