Facing a Wrecked Electric Vehicle, What Must EMS Staff Know?

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By the end of this year, several fully modern, highway-capable electric vehicles will go on sale. Sooner or later, one of them will get into an accident. What should emergency responders do when faced with a high-voltage battery pack that could kill them if mishandled? To prepare first responders to handle accidents involving EVs, General Motors are running a series of training courses to educate police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other rescue staff on the essential skills of dealing safely with electric cars.

2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010

2011 Chevrolet Volt pre-production prototype, January 2010

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GM, of course, are about to launch the 2011 Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle in November. Similarly, Nissan are about to launch the 2011 Leaf. Fisker will soon be launching the Karma, its plug-in hybrid sportscar, not to mention the increasingly large numbers of Toyota Prius Hybrid and Tesla Electric Roadsters on the road.

This isn't the first time GM have trained first responders on EV safety. Back when the company made the EV1 it trained emergency rescue staff on the safe way to deal with the EV1's electrical system in the event of an accident.

The 2011 Volt extended range electric car houses both a T-shape centrally-mounted battery pack for an all electric range of 40 miles as well as a gasoline tank and gasoline motor for extended range operation. While it has numerous safety features designed to activate fuel cut-offs and battery disconnects in an accident, the Volt presents both gasoline and electrical safety risks for emergency crews.

While first responders are highly skilled individuals with plenty of practice dealing with conventional gasoline car accidents, there are distinct differences between electric and gas powered cars which must be taken into account when providing crash assistance.

For a start, electric vehicles operate at very high voltages. An electric shock caused by an accident damaged EV can kill, spark with enough voltage to ignite any stray gasoline, or start a fire in the battery or car itself.

While gasoline cars represent explosion risks from leaking fuel in an accident that are equally life-threatening as the safety risks caused by a crash-damaged EV, emergency crews deal with these risks on a daily basis. Statistically, the number of EVs on the road today prevent that familiarity.

Accident Victim.

Accident victim

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Firefighters, paramedics and police officers will be trained to locate the best places on the 2011 Volt to cut through the  car's thickened chassis and door pillars in order to rescue trapped occupants as well as being able to identify high voltage power cables in the transmission and power systems of the extended range electric car. They will also be shown the locations and safe removal of mechanical battery disconnect service switches designed to split the battery pack up in such a way that electrical shock risks are eliminated.

The training, funded by GM and its in-vehicle safety and security arm OnStar, will be run in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington, D.C., all prime target markets where the 2011 Volt will be sold.

In addition, GM has collaborated with national safety organizations throughout the U.S. to ensure that all emergency teams nationwide have the correct information to deal with an accident involving an electric car.

With more electric vehicles reaching the market this year, expect more safety training from electric car manufacturers to ensure that everyone can rest assured that emergency services know exactly what to do should the unthinkable ever happen.


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Comments (5)
  1. Generally speaking, if you stay away from the bottom of the vehicle, you aren't exposed to high voltage. In the EVs I've dealt with (which is quite a few) the power cables and battery systems are run underneath the vehicle. If you are extracting passengers from carshed vehicle, you would cut the pillars, or remove the roof.
    SAE is working on a standard to define HV cabling in EVs, but generally speaking most manufactured EVs clad HV cables with orange sheathing or use orange cabling to indicate high voltage. Of course it's not a rule yet, but obviously a standard is needed.

  2. More GM NONSENSE. GM is intending to sabotage the EV all over again; we see that NO EV has a 200 mile range on Nickel batteries (in fact, no new Nickel Evs since Chevron sued Toyota to stop production). Range is PATHETIC, my 2002 RAV4-EV with over 100,000 miles gets better range than either the volt-hoax or the leafev -- EVEN IF THEY ARE ACTUALLY SOLD, WHICH SO FAR, THEY ARE ALL TALK.
    FYI, there's a relay called the Killavolt which breaks contact in case of a bad accident; so far, in ALL the EV crashes NOT ONE problem with electric or voltage.
    The Prius, while still an oil-fired car, has 288v (or 400v) and NO PROBLEMO.
    more gm LIES.

  3. Doug Korthof: stop being and idiot.
    There _is_ a danger of high voltage, especially in future electric cars. Prius is quite safe because its HVDC system is pretty much sealed and self-contained. Almost all of it fit into that 'bump' in the middle of the floor. So there's little risk of damage in case of accident, or to be precise, by the time it's damaged - it is no longer a problem because all everybody in the car is dead.
    Now, Volt and Leaf are completely different beasts. They have high-voltage lines running through the whole car, including the hood which is damaged first. Of course, there will be safety cut-offs, probably several redundant emergency cut-off systems. But it's certainly possible that they might fail in some cases (nothing is perfect).
    Oh, and Volt/Leaf are already on the way to mass production. And there are no new NiCd/NiMH EVs because they are plainly impractical. That's simple.

  4. Sorry, but I beg to differ on several points. First, the Prius also has High voltage running through the car. The battery is in back and the electric drive (Hybrid Synergy Drive) is in front attached to the engine. Just about all the hybrids are the same way, battery pack in the back of the vehicle, integrated engine/motor at the front, high voltage cables running between them.
    Also there are no NiMH EVs because Chevron/Texaco owns CoBaSys who own the patents for large format NiMH and not surprisingly they are unwilling to allow them to be manufactured. There are 10 year old vehicles (RAV4 EV and Ford Ranger EV) that are running using these batteries Panasonic made until CoBaSys sued them (and won) making Panasonic pay $130 million, and subsequently stop production.
    NiCd I agree are not practical.

  5. The batteries may be on the bottom, in the back, where ever. What you are forgetting is that not all vehicle crahses leave the vehicle upright. Heavy rescue sometimes requires using unique approaches to extrication.
    And although this article focuses on electrical charge as the primary hazard, it's also very important to know where the batteries are and what they look like so that you don't run your Jaws, radial saw, air chisel or other rescue tool through one.

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