As electric cars edge their way further into the mainstream, there is increased talk of how our infrastructure must adapt to accommodate them – networks of charging stations must be established, methods of recycling or disposing of their batteries must be developed, mechanics need to learn how to fix them ... but what happens when they crash? They may not have a big flammable gas tank, but there’s still a lot of electricity to be wary of. In order to educate emergency response personnel on how to safely work with EVs at accident scenes, the US National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is currently offering its Electric Vehicle Safety Training course to first responders across America.

According to the NFPA’s Lorraine Carli, one thing that crews need to learn about EVs is where the frame is strongest – the body structure of an electric vehicle will not necessarily be the same as that of a combustion vehicle. “High strength steel is used in certain locations of most electric vehicle models,” she explained to us. “Identifying the location of this steel is important when it comes to knowing the right tools to use when responding to an incident.”

Other topics covered include precautions to take around the lithium-ion battery packs (although the risk of electrocution is apparently pretty low), the location of cut points for the extraction of occupants, and power shut-off procedures. With combustion vehicles, it’s generally fairly obvious whether or not the engine is running – you can hear it. With EVs’ silent motors, however, first responders will have to get used to not relying on their ears to know if the power’s still on.

The program was started as a joint effort of General Motors and the NFPA, to teach firefighters and others specifically how to deal with the Chevrolet Volt. As of this month, however, GM handed the program over to the NFPA. The project now also includes information on vehicles made by Ford and Nissan.

The three-and-a-half hour course has already toured six major U.S. cities, and will soon be available online via the project’s website.

“Just like with any new technology, training is important,” Carli told us. “Firefighters and first responders have always met any challenges coming their way. The introduction of electric vehicles is the simply the latest one.”

All photographs courtesy NFPA.

View gallery - 5 images