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Emergency Responders May Risk Electrocution in Electric Car Crashes

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author photo by Autotrader June 2010

Surviving the impact is the primary focus of automotive crash safety efforts, but with the expected onslaught of electric vehicles arriving on the market comes a new threat: electrocution. The problem is especially acute for emergency responders who may have to cut a wrecked car open to remove injured occupants.

Addressing this issue, Chevrolet and OnStar are leading a series of briefings to train emergency response crews on how to handle the Chevrolet Volt extended-range electric vehicle after a crash.

The companies are working with response organizations in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit and Washington, D.C., the areas where the Volt will first be sold, as well as at industry conferences in Chicago, Indianapolis, and Houston this summer.

"We believe a first responder education program is very important to raise the awareness and understanding of electric vehicle technology," explained Carmen Benavides, director of safety for Chevrolet. "This is a natural extension of the collaborative efforts we've had in the past when introducing new safety and other technologies."

Chevrolet has been working with representatives from national safety organizations to develop educational materials for firefighters, police, emergency medical technicians and emergency dispatchers to help answer the questions they have about electric vehicles.

Some of the specific information provided includes illustrations of the Volt, showing the location of harder-to-cut high-strength steel, designated cut points in the car, electric shut-offs and labeling on the car for emergency responders.

"Technological changes in the automotive industry require changes in fire and emergency service operations as well," observed Chief Jack Parrow, first vice president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.

OnStar is involved because the company has longstanding relationships with the emergency response community whose members were asking OnStar what to expect from the Volt, said Thomas Jeffers, vice president of public policy for OnStar. "One thing that came up in those conversations was, 'What are we going to do when we face a Volt in a crash?'" he said.

The notion of responding to a crashed Volt in water is particularly worrisome to responders, he said. "They said, 'I have a wife and child at home and I don't want to die if I touch a Volt,'" Jeffers recalled.

In addition to the more than 50 crash tests that GM has performed on Volt prototypes, the company provided four to be cut up for demonstrations to emergency responders at the company's Milford Proving Grounds. "They were blown away by that," Jeffers said. "Do you know how much they cost?"

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Emergency Responders May Risk Electrocution in Electric Car Crashes - Autotrader