Author(s): Don Bliss. Published on May 1, 2018.

Beyond Petroleum

How NFPA is helping global stakeholders navigate a brave new world of alternative fuel vehicles

According to the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organization focused on clean energy and economic development, the number of electric vehicles in operation around the world topped 2 million in 2016. If recent sales trends hold, 2017 may have added nearly a million more electric vehicles to the roads. Those numbers don’t even include vehicles that run on other alternative fuels such as hydrogen, liquefied propane, and compressed natural gas. Western Europe, China, Japan, Canada, and the United States have led the way in sales growth for alternative fuel vehicles in the past few years.

NFPA’s Alternative Fuel Vehicle (AFV) Safety Training Program is a good example of how we can impact the global safety community and promote a broader understanding of these emerging technologies. The AFV program was born out of a pressing need to address this growing market and the serious risks it could pose to responders, investigators, and salvage truck operators who respond to fires and crashes involving these vehicles. To date, the program has been offered in Canada and in South Korea, and we expect to see more interest outside the U.S. as alternative fuel vehicles become even more prevalent.

Understanding the electrical power systems and wiring in these vehicles is critical for avoiding electrocution for anyone involved in extrication, investigation, and towing of these vehicles after an incident. From a fire standpoint, firefighters must be aware of the unique dangers and challenges of AFV and adapt their resources and tactics accordingly. For instance, incident reports and data from full-scale battery fire testing conducted by the Fire Protection Research Foundation demonstrated that electric vehicle fires can burn longer and hotter than the average car fire. Battery fires can also ignite minutes, days, and even weeks after a crash—and often can reignite after being extinguished.

NFPA’s online and classroom AFV training includes videos, animations, data review questions, and 3-D interactive environments. Since AFV technologies continue to rapidly expand along with risks to firefighters, the training program has been expanded to include other alternative fuels, as well as trucks and buses.

Aside from training, NFPA has developed a downloadable emergency response guidebook that includes information on 144 models of electric, hybrid, fuel cell, and gaseous fuel vehicles. The standardized format of the data sheets makes it easy for first responders to quickly determine the best plan of action for a specific model at the scene of an emergency. NFPA also has links at to emergency response guides developed by 30 AFV manufacturers.

The AFV training program is just one example of the ways NFPA is committing resources to staying abreast of emerging technologies that create new risks for the public and for first responders around the globe. In addition, NFPA’s public education resources, the Firewise USA™ community wildfire preparedness program, and the recently developed EFFECT™ exterior cladding prioritization tool can be applied anywhere.

As we expand our information and knowledge offerings, NFPA will continue to collect data, conduct research, and connect directly with our members and stakeholders in order to develop tools and solutions that address global fire protection challenges.

DONALD BLISS is vice president of Field Operations for NFPA.