NFPA Develops Electric Car Response Training

The National Fire Protection Association has developed a training program specifically aimed at helping first responders with crashes involving electric vehicles.

The program, aptly called “Electric Vehicle Safety: Prepare to Respond,” was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy and partnered with several auto manufacturers, particularly General Motors, Nissan and Ford.

The project encompasses training material, a video, programming and a website, all designed to help responders learn more about an increasingly popular mode of transportation that is now found on highways nationwide.

A Training Video is Born

Have you ever been to an auto collision that has a dedicated concession stand to feed the rescuers? How about a simple pop-the-door extrication that takes two days?

How about responding to the same crash repeatedly, each time with someone saying, “action”? Or a scene where the “director” says “CUT,” but doesn’t mean to take the roof off the vehicle?

There’s a group of firefighters in northern New Hampshire who have experienced that kind of scene. They were part of a training video produced by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

NFPA was awarded a $4.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop an electric vehicle training program for the nation’s first responders. It was part of an initiative to develop alternative energy sources and provide training for people who would be responding to crashes involving electric and hybrid vehicles. Within the next year, it’s anticipated that more than one million hybrid vehicles will be on the road.

Last fall, firefighters from Haverhill Corner and Piermont, two fire departments in the Upper Connecticut River Valley of New Hampshire, spent two days rehearsing and filming a simple, single-person extrication from a mock head-on collision. It was preceded by several fire academy-level extrication training and practice sessions – all to get prepared for a moment of fame in front of the cameras.

On the other side of the country, firefighters in Reno, Nev., participated in the same filming, doing much of the same scenario. The NFPA told participants the idea was to show “generic” firefighters and equipment, therefore viewers won’t know what departments they are seeing, without some inside knowledge.

As a matter of full-disclosure, I am a firefighter and EMT with the Haverhill Corner Fire Department. As such, I participated in the training and filming of the video, although I do not believe I appear on camera in any of the shots made available so far – so don’t go looking.

The Collaboration Begins

It was an interesting experience that began with a conversation late last summer. A member of the Piermont Fire Department, Rich Dion, was hired as an NFPA consultant to work on the electric vehicle project. He thought it would be a good idea to use volunteers in rural New England communities for the filming of the video.

“NFPA has often used paid actors and career firefighters for their videos, but not volunteers,” Dion told us, indicating it was the first time NFPA agreed to the concept. “I believe volunteers can do just as well as the career guys.”

And so, the collaborative venture between Piermont and Haverhill Corner fire departments and NFPA was created.

The first step was to see if the members of the department were interested in the project. The initial meeting showed strong interest from many of the departments – participation by the end, however, was somewhat diminished as the firefighters began to realize it was going to take a huge time commitment to complete. For me, I used the training toward my continuing education credits to keep my national EMT certification updated.

Preparing for the Role

As it turns out, neither department has extrication tools and we all needed training on how to use them. We didn’t want to appear inexperienced on a video that was going to be distributed nationwide as part of a NFPA training video.

So, we were all given extensive training in auto extrication, with oversight from the New Hampshire Fire Academy.

After we got the basics of auto extrication down, it was time for some practical experience. After two donated cars, (one was a high-mileage commuter car I contributed) and a Saturday, we all had a working knowledge of how the tools worked. It was interesting cutting apart a car that I had driven for years.

Then, it was time for our auditions for different roles. Each of us who were going to be part of the video needed an assignment for the duration of the filming.

For me, it was easy. I am most often the engine chauffeur and pump operator, so that was my role for the filming. My chief, Mike Lavoie, was named the incident commander and the Piermont chief, Bruce Henry, was named the safety officer for the incident. In all, about 10 members of my department participated, each with assignments ranging from chocking wheels, to retrieving tools, to standing by with charged hose lines - much as one would do for a real extrication.

And that was the goal, to make the extrication appear as real as possible with the only substantive difference being the fact that one of the vehicles was electric.

On the Set

For us, it was a green, two-door 2002 Toyota Prius that was purchased from a local dealer. It was a pretty nice looking car, until our film and training crew did a number on it with the bucket of a Kubota tractor to simulate damage. Our counterparts in Reno cut up a silvery-blue Prius that’s seen in the video.

The other vehicle in the two-car collision in New Hampshire was a derelict four-door Buick that was positioned, and also damaged by the Kubota, to simulate a near head-on collision.

Once the scene was set, the film crew from Boston came in and set up booms, lighting, sound equipment and a wide variety of supporting gear.

Like a Hollywood set, there were spectators, police, the catering trailer, ATVs to move staff and equipment around the “set” and, of course, a lot of fire apparatus.

For our filming, we used the vacant parking lot of a grocery store that burned more than a decade ago. We did use the surrounding roads, however, for response.

“Action”

Starting at 6 a.m. on a cool November Sunday morning, the apparatus responded to the parking lot. It was show time.

For the most part, the filming was done in the sequence of how any response would be done.

The director told us to take our places for filming the first scene that was the response. Apparatus was staged about a quarter of a mile up the road, with a police SUV in the lead, followed by an engine and then a rescue truck.

It took about five tries for the director to be satisfied that he had the shot he wanted of the trucks arriving on the scene. Over a tactical channel of our radio, the director would say “Engine 3, respond.”

We would sign on the radio, which was recorded for uses as the sound track for the video. It was odd having someone on the radio telling me to turn on my siren - especially because it was an early Sunday morning in a residential area and we weren’t going to a real wreck.

Once on the scene, the four of us in the engine, each with our jobs, would pile off the apparatus and assume our roles. My chief, the incident commander was in the officers’ seat of my engine and he had to bail out and do a walk around and scene size up, checking with the victim to assess his condition.

My job was to park the apparatus, chock the wheels, engage the pump and get water flowing for two of our firefighters to stand by for the extrication.

One of the hose guys was a complete rookie who spent nearly two days with an SCBA pack on his back and a mask on his face, ready to deploy, which never happened – remember it was a simulated wreck. He certainly got used how to don an air pack and how it felt for extended periods of time.

Firefighters and EMTs on the other apparatus were to start getting the car ready for extrication, but it took numerous takes to get exactly what they wanted.

Maintaining Accuracy

All the while we were doing our jobs, an inspector from the NFPA was keeping a watchful eye. The goal was to make sure our operations were in keeping with NFPA standards.

For us, that meant if we were in the hot zone, closest to the vehicle, we had to have full compliant turnout gear, goggles, hoods, and gloves. And everyone was checked before being in the shot. Even if we were just in the background, we had to keep in character with full gear. For us in Haverhill Corner, we suddenly realized that most of our gear was more than 10 years old, no longer compliant with NFPA standards, so it was a good time to buy new gear. Hence, you’ll see a lot of new bunker pants and coats in our section of the video.

Although many scenes were done over and over again, there were some that could only be done in one take for obvious reasons, like breaking the glass, or taking the windshield out. Our guys are the ones using the reciprocating saw on the front glass in the preview video.

Popping the door and cutting the B-pillar were a couple of other scenes that could only be done in one take for continuity.

And, we had only one shot with the air ambulance from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, in Lebanon. They actually came the day before extrication was done, but through the magic of editing, the scenes appear to have blended seamlessly.

As the daylight waned, the film crews stepped up the pace and the extrication was complete with the patient loaded on his way.

It’s a Wrap

For the cast, there was no glamorous Hollywood after wrap party – but there was lots of great “country fair” kind of food and a bunch of equipment that needed to be refueled and put back in service for next “real” call.

Several months later, Rich Dion, the NFPA consultant and neighboring firefighter who got us involved with the project, gave us a private screening at the fire station.

We had a chance to see ourselves in the video, laugh a little at ourselves and get some nicknames. For instance, my deputy, Richard Morris, earned the title of “Hollywood” because he had a couple of close-ups. And for our parts, at the end of the video, when the credits roll, we’ll all see our names on the big screen.

Coming Soon

“NPFA’s Electric Vehicle Safety Training is helping to make the novelty of EVs turn into familiarity and acceptance,” said Andrew Klock, NFPA’s senior project manager of training development and head of the electric vehicle project. “Simple training and understanding of how these cars should be handled in a potential crash is another step in adapting our nation’s infrastructure. It is our goal that by the time you see a sign on the highway indicating a charging station at your next exit, as a first responder, you’ll be ready to handle any car that pulls in for a charge.”

Jim Shannon, president of NFPA, said the organization’s mission is to provide the nation’s responder with specific training and information to respond appropriately to electric and hybrid vehicle incidents.

“Our goal is to ensure firefighters, first responders, law enforcement and others are as comfortable working around electric vehicles as they are with conventional vehicles today,” Shannon said. “…Hands-on training is not always possible. For this reason, our program will be delivered through a number of channels and will use videos and simulations to ensure trainees have the opportunity to get a real world understanding of these new vehicles.”

Much of the training program and video was unveiled this spring and roll-out nationwide is expected soon.

Information about the program and a video preview can be found at www.evsafetytraining.org

 

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