Hybrid vehicles pose many different dangers for firefighters when responding to an accident or car fire.
Roughly a decade after the introduction of hybrid and electric cars on U.S. roads, fire departments are receiving training on how to handle the vehicles that can cause many unique and dangerous hazards.
Dedham firefighters spent the week learning how to approach a car accident involving a hybrid vehicle, what to stay away from when popping the hood and tips on how to avoid getting electrocuted.
“We are going to take our initial precautions and disable the electric system – and do our best to stay safe,” said Deputy Chief Bill Spillane.
Spillane spent time receiving training, at no cost to the department, from the National Fire Protection Association. Many state fire academies, including Massachusetts, do not have programs in place to teach upcoming or current firefighters about hybrid vehicle dangers, Spillane said.
Boch Toyota of Norwood allowed firefighters to inspect a Toyota Prius, one of the more popular hybrid vehicles on the road, in order to get a hands-on look.
Firefighters haven’t responded to an a major accident with a hybrid vehicle as of yet, Spillane said, but added that only makes this training more important to do.
“There is such a demand because of the popularity [of hybrid cars], we want to get our guys trained,” Spillane said.
Boch Toyota sells about three to four each week, and as gas prices remain high, they expect to sell even more, said Mark Hickey, a representative of Boch.
“Every time that gas price goes up, people are coming in looking for a Prius,” Hickey said.
A hybrid utilizes a high-voltage inverter under the hood to operate – and with 300 volts of electricity ripping through it, one wrong move could lead to serious injury.
“They are potentially fatal if you come in contact with them,” Spillane said. “You have to be aware of where these things are located.”
Often times firefighters will use a halogen to pry open the hood of the car, and Spillane warned his firefighters to avoid the inverter system during the training. Firefighters were advised to disconnect the car battery in the trunk of the car and make sure the car is off before popping the hood, when possible.
“We don’t want to pry into big voltage,” Spillane said, adding another strategy would be to unhinge the hood near the windshield and fold back it back.
When operating on electricity, the car is virtually silent, and thus firefighters should approach the car from the side instead of the front or back in case the car is on and rolls toward them, Spillane said.
“It’s awareness for us,” the deputy cheif said. “These aren’t going away. It is up to us to find ways around it. Just different tactics for different technologies.