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Emergency responders learn how to work safely around hybrid vehicles

Nearly 200 emergency responders learn how to
work safely around hybrid vehicles at Nicolet workshops


Posted Thursday, March 24, 2011
As if their job wasn’t difficult enough, emergency responders rendering aid at accident scenes today now face a new danger: hybrid vehicles.

Emergency Responder Hybrid TrainingIt’s not really the vehicles themselves that pose the danger, but rather the large amounts of electricity stored in hybrid batteries, said Chris Bartelt, Fire, Safety and OSHA instructor at Nicolet College.

“You definitely do not want to cut through the wrong wire when you are working on a hybrid at an accident scene,” said Bartelt, who is also an emergency responder.

To help keep responders safe, Nicolet College has created specialized workshops that lay out, in detail, how to work in and around these vehicles in a safe manner.

Already nearly 200 emergency responders along with firefighters and law enforcement officers from throughout the Northwoods have taken the workshop. Classes so far have been held in Land O’ Lakes, St. Germain, Fifield, Pickerel, Hazelhurst and Rhinelander.

More responders are signed up to take upcoming classes in Phelps and Wabeno.

During each workshop Bartelt goes through the components of a hybrid vehicle, where the danger points are, and where it is safe to use implements such as the Jaws of Life to gain access to an accident victim.

The mantra Bartelt repeats over and over again is “never cut through the orange and blue cables.”

These cables can carry as much as 650 volts “and that’s plenty of electricity to get electrocuted,” he added. To put it in perspective, the typical household electrical outlet carries 120 volts. “Now imagine getting hit with three times that much. Never cut through the orange and blue cables.”

Electricity isn’t the only safety concern. For sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, and municipal police officers who pull over vehicles, the lack of engine noise when a hybrid is in electric mode combined with a backup camera in the rear of the vehicle can spell trouble.

“Just because you can’t hear the engine doesn’t mean it isn’t running,” he explained. “Bad guys can use vehicles as weapons, so the rule here for law enforcement is never stand in front of or behind a hybrid.”

Keeping up with such changes in vehicle technology is nothing new for emergency responders and law enforcement officials. “A generation ago it was learning how to work safely around airbags,” Bartelt said. “Hybrids are just the latest advancement. There will be more.”