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USA: Ohio Firefighters Get Electric Vehicle Safety Training

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio —
Firefighters have a lot to think about as they roll up on the scene of a car crash. With thousands more electric and hybrid vehicles on the road, the situation becomes even more complicated. New training from the National Fire Protection Agency gives Ohio firefighters a heads up on the new, potential dangers they’re facing.

“New technology makes it more difficult for us to protect the public,” says Randy Armbruster, chief of the Waverly Fire Department, who has been to hundreds of car crashes in his 25 years with the department. “That adds to the stress level. That adds to the hazard level. And it may complicate the extrication to get the victims out.”

Armbruster was part of a train-the-trainer program at the Ohio Fire Academy on Tuesday. Nearly two dozen firefighters from across the state spent time in the classroom and crawling on, around, and through a Chevy Volt, learning about the mechanical systems and safety provisions.

“We’re here to learn as instructors so we can go back and teach our departments and other departments,” he says. “There’s always something new to learn.”

The classes are run by the NFPA with a $4.4 million grant from the US Department of Energy. The NFPA says the education project was developed because of the growing number of electric and hybrid vehicles already on the road (Toyota claims to have sold more than a million Prii as of April 2011) and the Obama administration’s goal of having at least a million fully-electric cars on the road by 2015.

“There’s different technology that’s involved and we just want everyone to feel comfortable because there are a lot of myths that have floated around,” says NFPA trainer Chris Pepler. “We want to make sure we dispel the myths and give the most accurate information.”

Pepler says one of the prevailing myths is that firefighters can be shocked by a crashed vehicle if it is sitting in puddles or submerged.

“The electrical system of these vehicles is isolated from the chassis,” he says. “We explain to the students how the systems actually work and the safety systems that have been put in place by the [manufacturers].”

The biggest real issue, he points out, is that electric and hybrid vehicles are sneaky.

“That’s the most substantial hazard of all. These vehicles are silent.”

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