*Blog Written by Jason Emery, Courtesy of NFPAs Electric Vehicle Safety Training Website
As hybrid and electric vehicles become more popular on the roadways, it is more important than ever for emergency responders to understand the best identification methods. Most responders tend to rely on external badging as the sole identification method; this however can result in some vehicles not being properly identified. First keep in mind that there are no industry standards for external markings. Vehicle markings can range from all four sides to a complete absence of external badging. Responders, such as EMS or Fire service personnel must also consider that the potential exists for external markings to become hidden or dislodged as a result of a crash.
During an emergency response, the most appropriate action is for first responders to treat any vehicle as if it is some type of alternative fueled vehicle until you can make positive identification one way or another. Additionally, if at first glance you do not see any badging, be sure to look for less conventional identification methods such as battery vents, dashboard logos or indicators, orange cabling, etc. to ensure that you are not dealing with a hybrid or electric vehicle. For more detailed information on proper identification methods take the online class available on our website, or be sure to attend a training class in your area using the NFPA classroom program.
With the release of more and more hybrid and EV models, it may be difficult to understand some of their more subtle differences. In the case of hybrids and plugin hybrids, while there are certainly some engineering differences, from an emergency responder perspective they are handled the same.
Hybrid vehicles are self-contained units that use both electric motor(s) and an internal combustion engine (ICE) to propel the vehicle. The high voltage battery is recharged through power taken from the ICE and through a process called regenerative braking that captures energy from the braking process. Both of these methods ensure that the user never has to consciously make an effort to charge the battery, it's done automatically.
Plugin hybrids are simply an offshoot of that concept; they allow for a connection to be made to a Level I or Level II charging station for another charging source for the high voltage battery. These vehicles also include a larger capacity battery to store that extra energy and improve the overall energy efficiency of the vehicle. In the event that you cannot connect to a charger, the high-voltage battery is recharged through the same means as a standard hybrid. Ironically enough when hybrids first were released, there was a concern among manufacturers that people would not understood that they did not need to be plugged in. A decade later that concept has become more acceptable to the general public and the plugin hybrid was born.
There is essentially no difference for the first responder in how we handle these vehicles in an emergency situation. Both types contain a high voltage power source and an internal combustion engine with a fuel source and should be treated as such. The only real difference would occur if the plugin hybrid was attached to the charging station at the time of the incident. In this case you would want to secure the power source supplying the charging station as a first step in mitigating the scene.
As always, be sure to use the Identify, Immobilize and Disable approach on all vehicles and assume there is a potential to be dealing with a Hybrid or Electric Vehicle when approaching a crash or fire scene.
Jason Emery, who has more than 21 years in the fire service, is a lieutenant with the Waterbury Fire Department in Connecticut. Emery is assigned to the rescue/hazmat company. He has a BS in fire science from the University of New Haven and is a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He is a subject matter expert for the National Fire Protection Association, a member of its development team, and the lead instructor for its Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Training program.
Vector Solutions offers 450+ hours of online firefighter training via a purpose-built training management system, including courses related to alternative vehicles such as a recently updated First Responder Hybrid Vehicle Incidents course and an Electric and Alternative Fuel Vehicles for First Responders course. Request a demo to learn more.