GM Expands EV Safety Program Among First Responders in U.S. and Canada

General Motors Co. in Detroit is significantly expanding its efforts to educate public safety, fire, and emergency service providers throughout the United States and Canada as EV sales grow, albeit at a modest pace.
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A firefighter from the Illinois Fire Service Institute demonstrates occupant extraction best practices for EVs by cutting the windshield pillar of a GMC HUMMER EV Pickup. First responders are being taught to avoid the floor beneath passengers, which houses battery modules.
GM is expanding its North American educations services for first responders to allow them to learn to safely handle EVs in emergency situations. // Courtesy of GM

General Motors Co. in Detroit is significantly expanding its efforts to educate public safety, fire, and emergency service providers throughout the United States and Canada as EV sales grow, albeit at a modest pace.

The automaker’s latest EV First Responder Training program will focus primarily on personnel in fire services, providing instruction and sharing of best practices on how to most effectively support emergency situations involving electric vehicles, including Chevrolet Bolt EV and Bolt EUV, GMC Hummer EV Pickup and Cadillac LYRIQ.

This program, though directly focused on responders, also benefits drivers involved in incidents, where every second matters, and is a continuation of GM-led education efforts that began more than a decade ago with the introduction of the Chevrolet Volt.

With plans to have the capacity to build more than 1 million EVs by 2025, GM continues to ramp investments in the ecosystem that will enable mass adoption and support those who play a vital role in the responsible deployment of electrified technology.

Still, EVs are years away from becoming mainstream due to range anxiety, slow charging times, a lack of public charging stations, electric grid deficiencies, child labor used in sourcing minerals used in batteries, recycling issues, rising vehicle costs, and more.

“Our primary goal is to provide key information directly to first and second responders,” says Joe McLaine, a global product safety and systems engineer at GM. “This training offers unique material and hands-on experiences that can help increase responders’ awareness of procedures to help maintain safety while interacting with EVs during the performance of their duties.”

GM’s EV First Responder Training effort is an education and outreach program designed to offer emergency responders key information about battery electric vehicle technology, dispel misconceptions, and share important industry best practices for handling electric and electrified (hybrid) vehicles safely in multiple situations.

For example, many people believe water is dangerous around an EV battery, when in fact a large volume of water is the recommended method to suppress a lithium-ion battery fire. This program will be divided into both live presentations and other training formats, including combinations of expert presentations, videos, animations, and virtual demonstrations.

“The best way for the public and private vehicle fleet owners to rapidly adopt EVs is to train firefighters and emergency responders on how to handle incidents involving battery powered vehicles,” says Andrew Klock, senior manager of education and development at the National Fire Protection Association. “The fire service has had more than 100 years to gain the knowledge needed to respond to internal combustion engine fires, and it is critical that they are now educated on EV safety.”

The NFPA has led its own education efforts around EVs with 300,000 first responders but estimates there are more than 800,000 additional members of the community that need further training.

Following successful pilot events that have taken place in southeast Michigan, training and outreach events will expand across Michigan and in Fort Worth, Texas, followed by metro New York City and southern California later this summer. First and second responders can go to gmEVFirstResponderTraining.com to learn more about this hands-on training opportunity.

A few key stops also will include:

  • The International Association of Fire Chiefs’ Fire-Rescue International conference in San Antonio from Aug. 24-26.
  • The Fire Department Instructors Conference in Indianapolis from April 24-29, 2023.

Training for the first and second responders will include materials and curriculum developed with select key active members of public safety communities, delivered over a four-hour block of instruction, with up to two sessions per day in major markets, across multiple venues such as fire houses, training academies, regional learning centers or dealerships.

The coursework will be accounted for by a Certificate of Educational Achievement, and trainees will need to score higher than 70 percent on the check on learning assessment. After completing the hands-on training, attendees will receive a Certificate of Completed Training offered through the Illinois Fire Service Institute, the only nonprofit, state-funded fire safety organization in the U.S. The IFSI is proud to partner with GM on this initiative.

EV safety doesn’t begin at the point of a collision. While gas- and diesel-powered vehicles share many similar crash safety aspects with electrified vehicles, GM’s clean-sheet approach to EV design with its Ultium-based vehicles like the GMC HUMMER EV and Cadillac LYRIQ means high voltage wiring is routed out of reach of passengers, along with other benefits including a much lower center of gravity than internal combustion vehicles, which may lower the risk of rollovers.

Additionally, unlike home electronics, vehicles are developed with isolated electrical circuits to help reduce the risk of a current returning to ground.

Before customers purchase a new vehicle, GM engineers put them through rigorous testing procedures which includes real-world and virtual testing, including battery pack immersion testing and vehicle splash testing in water to simulate floods and test seals and other isolation measures. During vehicle development and testing, engineers evaluate battery module structures and validate systems that automatically disconnect a vehicle’s high voltage circuit.

GM is also teaching first and second responders how to approach an emergency scene with as much information as possible, including information from OnStar’s available Automatic Crash Response and Injury Severity Prediction.

From a relationship with RapidDeploy, OnStar can let responders know if an incident involves an EV. The important information OnStar provides also allows for public safety officials to triage the situation appropriately and provide first responders with what they need to respond safely and effectively on-scene.

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