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Emergency response crews learning how to deal with EV wrecks


January 25, 2011

Chicago firefighters learn how to respond to EV accidents, using a donated Chevrolet Volt

Chicago firefighters learn how to respond to EV accidents, using a donated Chevrolet Volt

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As electric cars edge their way further into the mainstream, there is increased talk of how our infrastructure must adapt to accommodate them – networks of charging stations must be established, methods of recycling or disposing of their batteries must be developed, mechanics need to learn how to fix them ... but what happens when they crash? They may not have a big flammable gas tank, but there’s still a lot of electricity to be wary of. In order to educate emergency response personnel on how to safely work with EVs at accident scenes, the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is currently offering its Electric Vehicle Safety Training course to first responders across America.

According to the NFPA’s Lorraine Carli, one thing that crews need to learn about EVs is where the frame is strongest – the body structure of an electric vehicle will not necessarily be the same as that of a combustion vehicle. “High strength steel is used in certain locations of most electric vehicle models,” she explained to us. “Identifying the location of this steel is important when it comes to knowing the right tools to use when responding to an incident.”

Other topics covered include precautions to take around the lithium-ion battery packs (although the risk of electrocution is apparently pretty low), the location of cut points for the extraction of occupants, and power shut-off procedures. With combustion vehicles, it’s generally fairly obvious whether or not the engine is running – you can hear it. With EVs’ silent motors, however, first responders will have to get used to not relying on their ears to know if the power’s still on.

The program was started as a joint effort of General Motors and the NFPA, to teach firefighters and others specifically how to deal with the Chevrolet Volt. As of this month, however, GM handed the program over to the NFPA. The project now also includes information on vehicles made by Ford and Nissan.

The three-and-a-half hour course has already toured six major U.S. cities, and will soon be available online via the project’s website.

“Just like with any new technology, training is important,” Carli told us. “Firefighters and first responders have always met any challenges coming their way. The introduction of electric vehicles is the simply the latest one.”

All photographs courtesy NFPA.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

A form of electrometer can sense if an EV motor is still \"live.\" 1st responders have to be trained to use the equipment.

Randolph Directo

Article glosses over the fact that 1st responders have already died after being electrocuted by an EV.

While the risk of electrocution may be \"pretty low\", electric batteries don\'t exactly smell or bleed fluids if there\'s a dangerous short in the system, if there is something wrong, you won\'t have any warning signs.

William Jolley

The manufacturers of EV\'s should build in a \"kill switch\" located close to the battery pack which would be activated by an accident or turned off manually by a fire fighter.

Adrian Akau

@William Jolley: Please refernce an article where first responders have been killed by an EV. I\'ve never heard of such an event, nor could I find one when searching for it. I think this is just another smear attempt on EVs.

Modern manufactured (not conversions or shop built EVs) have kill switches installed as a standard, and most have collision detecting ones. Even Hybrids have a kill switch on the battery pack.


@eletruk, sorry, article is several months old, and my GoogleFU is weak, I keep getting conspiracy theories about who killed the electric car instead of the old article. So you\'ll just have to take my word for it, and it is a danger, whether it is more or less dangerous than gasoline has yet to be proven.

Still all this blind enthusiasm about electric cars is a bit much, for instance, if you were to remove all cars in existence today, you wouldn\'t effect the c02 emission levels by even 2%!

but it gets better, where do you think the power to charge the batteries on an electric car come from? here in the US most power comes from Coal. so much for that 2% savings.

Electric cars are not the magic bullet to solve our problems, odds are they will not be known for their environmental impact as much as they will be known for their ease of constriction/maintenance, simple mechanics, and possibly low cost if only we had some decent battery technology!

William Jolley


\"...blind enthusiasm\" ?!? \"...2%\" ???

I think you gotta do some research before throwing these out ! First of all, cars are sole responsible of 1/4th of all pollution on earth. They should be dealt urgently, because there is a viable alternative and with zero pollution (if we choose to produce the electricity which drives them cleanly)

But even with electricty produced with long tail pipes (such as coal) you have room for at least 5 EVs for the price (of pollution) of 1 ICE. Besides, 90 % of those EVs will recharge over night which means they will just use the excess electricity which we throw it away or do things like climbing water to height to conserve the energy.

So, electric cars ARE magic bullet !! you like it or not, and the decent battery technology is on its way. We must stop right away with everything related to ICE. Sometimes I would like to have dictator like chinese have to impose things like: \"from now on, you will construct all cars with tail pipe turned inside to the vehicle\" then every body will be really enthusiast to drive an EV.



I think that in about five-ten years, you may have a change of opinion with respect to the EV. Emerging renewable energy should help reduce coal requirements for charging vehicles and for sun-belt states, PV modules could be designed for work related charge stations during the day. Cities near oceans should be able to tap ocean power and those in windy localities, the wind. Presently, free river turbines are being installed in the Mississippi river and distributed hydro power could be made available along other rivers as well without the need of building dams.

The future of EV\'s is most promising.

Adrian Akau
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