N.C. firefighters learn the ins and outs of electric vehicles
Sanford firefighters work to stay up-to-date on the latest vehicle technology
By Nancy McCleary
The Sanford Herald
SANFORD, N.C. — With the use of electric and hybrid vehicles, first responders are having to learn new strategies to keep not only victims safe, but themselves as well.
The Sanford Fire Department has already started training its members on new response procedures necessitated by the use of EVs, according to Battalion Chief Ronnie Page, who is in charge of training.
It means learning the location of the battery, which is housed in the trunk space of a battery-operated vehicle, disconnecting the battery if needed and keeping vehicles stable, Page said.
"It's still a learning experience," he said.
The hazards are many, according to organizations such as the National Fire Prevention Association, the National Highway Safety Administration Among hazards is the lack of noise produced in an EV as compared to regular vehicles, Page said. When firefighters arrive on a scene, the din from truck engines and other rescue vehicles easily drown out the EV.
"The battery stays energized and the vehicle will continue running very quietly. You may get on the scene and not realize the vehicle is trying to run," he said. "We don't want that vehicle moving on us if we're trying to get somebody out."
Safety procedures call for chocking the wheels — block the rear tires on wood blocks to prevent motion.
One of the most dangerous hazards is in the battery that powers the EV, Page said. The cars have 300 to 400 volts in the electric motor.
"There is the risk of electric shock," Page said.
National training groups say that such a shock can be fatal.
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The key is knowing the colors of the wiring systems in the engine should the need to kill the source of energy be needed, Page said. Different colors indicate which cables are a danger.
EV manufacturers have provided diagrams that show the location of batteries as well as extra-strength door frames if there is a need to free an entrapped victim, Page said.
"Everybody has to learn the parts and identify their location," he said.
Firefighters have been using local EVs for training as they learn the system and become familiar with the needed steps, he said.
Firefighters aren't the only first responders who have to learn the intricacies of the EVs. Medical responders such as EMTs, law enforcement and even tow-truck operators will have to study the procedures as well, Page said.
Some fire departments now have trucks now operating with the battery-operated engines, Page said.