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Electric vehicles highlight ever-changing response environment

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are also likely in our future, and who knows what else

Editor's note: Federal safety regulators are probing the fire risk in Chevrolet Volt autos, while firefighters are still learning to deal with the increasing number of electric vehicles on our roads. Check Chief Adam K. Thiel's take below.

A few weeks ago, while speaking at a conference about homeland security-related standards and best practices, a participant asked me about the increasing prevalence of electric vehicles and their impact on the fire and emergency services.

While it's probably premature to identify any major changes in the response environment from electric vehicles, I think we're certainly going to see more and more vehicles powered by alternatives to gasoline and diesel fuel.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) and liquefied petroleum (LP) gas are already fairly common, along with gasoline/electric hybrids. Hydrogen-powered vehicles are also likely in our future, and who knows what else.

I couldn't help but think about the many changes to vehicle design and construction over the past 20 years, and how they have influenced (or not) our approach to vehicle fires and extrication.

Many readers will remember when airbags were a novelty; now they represent the norm and have (hopefully) changed the need for, as well as our tactics in performing, vehicle extrication.

On the fire side, the gasoline/ethanol fuel blends used in many vehicles today (should) have changed the type of foam we use, even if we still tend to "attack" vehicle fires the same way we did 20 years ago. (You probably already know how I feel about that practice, and it still doesn't make sense.)

I'm sure we'll eventually adapt to these changes, but they certainly bear watching and, as with anything else, we must keep our training updated to safely and effectively respond to the ever-changing response environment.

The National Fire Protection Association offers an Electric Vehicle (EV) Safety Training program that is becoming a must for fire departments everywhere; check it out at www.evsafetytraining.org/

Stay safe!

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