As Barbados races to be totally green energy-dependent in just 11 years, fire chiefs are being urged to be equally urgent in upgrading the skills of first responders, who will be called upon in emergencies arising from this new technology.
The president of the US-based, National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), Jim Pauley, explained that, even in countries where electric vehicles have become prevalent, many emergency responders are not equipped to deal with serious accidents involving these vehicles’ uncommon and complex electrical components.
Pauley said: “An example of one area where we missed the indications upfront, was electric vehicles. These vehicles are very popular in parts of the world and are becoming very prominent in the United States. Alternative fuels are being used besides the normal petrol and that industry is scaling up, but nobody paid attention to the first responders.”
Pauley, who delivered the keynote address as Caribbean Fire Chiefs’ conference opened this morning at the Accra Hotel, said that with the battery pack on a standard electric vehicle putting out close to 400 volts, the scene of an accident involving one of these vehicles was no place for guessing games.
He told the fire chiefs: “What do you do when there is an accident involving one of these vehicles? How do you shut the power off? How does one extricate someone from a vehicle that has high-voltage wiring in places that you are not used to seeing them?
“So, we have developed a programme for first responders, which teaches them about the variations of electric vehicles, the different elements of the car and what they need to avoid.”
The firefighting expert said that components such as lithium batteries require specialised handling, as he warned those in authority against making the mistake of waiting until disaster strikes before taking action.
He said: “This is an area that the fire service needs to update their skills on early in the process. So often in our history we don’t do those things until after the tragedy occurs and we see the gap. This is about identifying those gaps upfront.”
He also warned that the emergency services must not only be ready to grapple with possible mishaps arising from the new technology at the domestic level but must be ready to take them on at an industrial level.
“Along those same lines we also have to take to heart the energy storage systems,” Pauley said.
“Just a few weeks ago in Arizona, the storage system facility for the electric company caught on fire, it exploded, ultimately blowing the heavy metal doors and eight firefighters were injured. We need to ensure that we are keeping up with technology.”
Pauley said that the training must extend to electricians as well as those who install fire safety equipment.
Since taking office last May, Government has been pushing its agenda for a green energy nation by 2030.
The Mottley administration has introduced several renewable energy initiatives, including the introduction of electric vehicles into public transport. With much of the discussion focussed on fast-tracking the alternative energy sector, little has been said publicly about safety measures regarding this evolving technology.