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Calif. crews get hydrogen fuel cell firefighting training

The course includes classroom instruction, group exercises involving incident scenarios, a quiz, and a hands-on, live-fire exercise

By Sandra T. Molina
The Pasadena Star-News

WHITTIER, Calif. — Hydrogen fuel cells may become the gasoline of the future in cars and trucks — so what will happen when such vehicles catch fire?

That’s what fire cadets and firefighters from San Gabriel, San Marino, Santa Fe Springs and the county are finding out this week at a special training program at the Rio Hondo College Fire Academy in Whittier.

“We want to be on top of any safety issues,” said San Marino Fire Chief Joe Nestor.

The eight-hour course in hydrogen fuel cell firefighting was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, said Tracy Rickman, the academy’s wildland and fire coordinator.

“Training for first-responders is designed to educate them about the unique properties of hydrogen and the special characteristics of fuel cells and hydrogen vehicles,” he said. “It also provides appropriate safety and emergency response information.”

The course includes classroom instruction, group exercises involving incident scenarios, a quiz, and a hands-on, live-fire exercise using a fuel cell vehicle “burn prop.”

This is the first time the training has been conducted outside of Washington state, said Richard Kallman, environmental protection specialist for the Santa Fe Springs Department of Fire-Rescue.

“By participating in this training, our personnel will be better equipped to handle an incident involving this type of fuel,” he said.

In the classroom training, instructors discussed the unique properties of hydrogen and its applications in transportation and as stationary power.

“This is an exciting opportunity for Rio Hondo College to not only provide valuable training to our students, but also to regional fire departments and public safety units in our community as well,” said Ted Martinez Jr., Rio Hondo College president.

Integral to the course, Rickman said, was the hands-on exercise with a mobile, full-size hydrogen fuel cell vehicle prop built by Kidde Fire Trainers for the DOE.

“The prop allows the trainers to safely simulate many scenarios, giving firefighters a realistic sense of hydrogen properties under emergency response conditions,” said Rickman.

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