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Hybrid and electric vehicles pose unique challenges to rescue workers

  • Instructor Karl Schneider talks to area firefighters about how to deal with a hybrid vehicle involved in an emergency situation.<br/>Fran Ryan

    Instructor Karl Schneider talks to area firefighters about how to deal with a hybrid vehicle involved in an emergency situation.
    Fran Ryan Purchase photo reprints »

  • Instructor Karl Schneider spend five hours Saturday working with area firefighters about how to respond to accidents involving hybrid vehicles.<br/>FRAN RYAN

    Instructor Karl Schneider spend five hours Saturday working with area firefighters about how to respond to accidents involving hybrid vehicles.
    FRAN RYAN Purchase photo reprints »

  • Instructor Karl Schneider talks to area firefighters about how to deal with a hybrid vehicle involved in an emergency situation.<br/>Fran Ryan
  • Instructor Karl Schneider spend five hours Saturday working with area firefighters about how to respond to accidents involving hybrid vehicles.<br/>FRAN RYAN

Firefighters from 12 area towns gathered at Mount Holyoke College on Saturday for an intensive five-hour training on responding to emergencies that involve hybrid and electric vehicles.

“Thirty years ago when I joined the fire department, it was all about fighting fires. Now, there is so much more that you have to know.” Hatfield Deputy Fire Chief Jonathan Bardwell said.

Unlike typical gas engines, hybrid and electric vehicles pose unique and complex hazards to rescue workers that require a new set of firefighting tools and strategies.

Gone are the days when firefighters can simply cut the roof from a car to extricate victims from a damaged vehicle. With the influx of hybrid and electric technology, it is imperative that rescue workers know where potentially dangerous electrical conductors and power sources are before cutting into a vehicle and risking electrocution.

“All hybrids have 12 volt batteries that need to be disconnected so you have to find those disconnection locations,” instructor Karl Schneider of Winchendon told the class. “To complicate matters, all hybrid vehicles are not the same and the configuration of the power system varies from one to the next,” he said.

Schneider instructed the class on basic rules for approaching a damaged vehicle. He said they must first identify the make of the car, immobilize it, make certain the engine is shut off, move any seats that may be obstructing rescue and disconnect and or safely cut the battery cable.

With that variety in makes and models, the presence of solar roofs, push button starters, key cards rather than standard metal keys, there is now more to consider than ever. Along with knowing how and where to disconnect electrical power, firefighters must also approach a hybrid or electric vehicle with the proper protective gear.

“You need high voltage gloves, rubber boots and full face protection,” Schneider said. “You can wear absolutely no jewelry and if you have a pacemaker you should not be working on the vehicle.”

Firefighters from Amherst, Belchertown, Chesterfield, Goshen, Granby, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, Pelham, South Hadley, Southampton and Westhampton attended the training.

“This is the first training of this kind that we have had,” Richard Stefanowicz, a firefighter and paramedic with the Granby Fire Department and Training Coordinator with the Hampshire County Fire Academy said.

The price tag for this regionalized training program, $2,300, was sponsored and fully funded by the Hampshire County Fire Chiefs Association.

Northampton Deputy Fire Chief Christopher Norris noted that, without the collaboration of all of the Hampshire County Fire Departments and the Fire Chiefs Association, the training would not have been feasible.

“I think this training is very good,” Goshen firefighter William Nugent said. “I have been to other things like this on hybrid cars but the more you know the safer you are.”

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