Emergency responders for years knew that when called to a car crash, the only fuels they needed to be prepared to deal with were gasoline and diesel.
Now, with the increased popularity of alternative-fuel vehicles that can be powered by biodiesel, electricity, ethanol, hydrogen, natural gas or propane, that call can be a little different.
To help train emergency responders and inspectors of alternative fuel stations, the nonprofit Baton Rouge-based Louisiana Clean Fuels recently got word that it will get about $100,000 to prepare those workers over the next several years to deal with new problems associated with fuels.
In a partnership with Louisiana State Police’s Joint Emergency Service Training Center in Zachary and LSU’s Carrol L. Herring Fire and Emergency Training Institute, the grant from the U.S. Department of Energy will help add alternative vehicle training to the schedule, said Ann Vail Shaneyfelt, executive director and clean cities coordinator for Louisiana Clean Fuels.
“It’s not the fuel that’s killing people, it’s a lack of knowledge that’s hurting people,” she said.
For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s fact sheet on responding to electric or hybrid electric vehicles with high-voltage batteries offers some tips that responders might not be aware of when approaching a vehicle. Because electric vehicles make so little noise, it’s hard to tell if the vehicle is still running. In addition, venting vapors from a damaged battery can be toxic or flammable. In the case of a flooded car, there could be short circuits that could cause fire.
Chief H. “Butch” Browning, Louisiana state fire marshal, said inspectors are seeing more alternative-vehicle facilities being built and there are some special considerations.
Modern fire codes and hazardous material response techniques cover how facilities will be built or how a fire would be responded to in case of an emergency. The difference is just in the chemicals that might be involved, and the training would address questions responders might have.
“Anytime new products come out on the market, you find firefighters will have additional training,” he said. In Louisiana, he said, with all of the hazardous materials that are transported and produced in the state, local firefighters are well versed in handling hazardous material incidents.
“There are more electric vehicles on the road every day,” said Donald Milligan, president of the Louisiana State Firemens Association and director of Avoyelles 911.
Although the problem hasn’t come up at the association yet, Milligan said, firefighters around the state are always looking to keep up with latest training.
“It’s something I’m sure we want to know about,” Milligan said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.