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GM expands EV first responder training

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General Motors is working to expand its efforts to educate public safety, fire, and emergency service providers in the U.S. and Canada on electric vehicle (EV) safety.

GM’s EV First Responder Training program “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,” according to Joe McLaine, GM global product safety and systems engineer. He is also leading the training effort.

OEM procedures to properly de-energize batteries and avoid fire risk and thermal runaway are a critical concern for repairers as well, with significant emphasis on industry-specific training and documentation on how to keep technicians safe through adherence to repair specifications. For example, OEMs caution to protect battery connectors, specifically those that connect the battery to the inverter unit and the inverter unit to the drive motor, because they have to have extremely low resistance.

GM plans to build more than 1 million EVs by 2025 and, because of that, “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,” a news release states.

Program participants will learn industry best practices for handling electric and electrified hybrid vehicles safely in multiple situations. The program also dispels misconceptions; for example, that water is dangerous around an EV battery. However, GM says a large amount of water is the recommended method to suppress a lithium-ion battery fire.

“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,” said National Fire Protection Association Senior Manager of Education and Development Andrew Klock, in the release. “The fire service has had more than 100 years to gain the knowledge needed to respond to internal combustion engine (ICE) 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, according to the release. The four-hour training includes materials and curriculum developed with active members of public safety communities. After completing the hands-on training, participants receive a Certificate of Completed Training through the Illinois Fire Service Institute.

It’s also important to note that, as GM put it, 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. Other benefits include a much lower center of gravity than ICE vehicles, which may lower the risk of rollovers, according to GM. And 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 include 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,” the release states. “During vehicle development and testing, engineers evaluate battery module structures and validate systems that automatically disconnect a vehicle’s high voltage circuit.”

Through use of RapidDeploy, OnStar-equipped GM vehicles will 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,” the release states.

For more information about GM’s EV First Responder Training program, visit

The WVU Extension Fire Service and the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) at WVU have also teamed up to produce a free fire response online course called “Electric Vehicle Safety: An Awareness Level Training.” It’s sponsored by GM and includes a classroom component and demonstrations. Topics include identifying hybrid EVs and battery EVs at an incident site, assessing for actual or potential EV battery damage, de-energizing vehicles, avoiding thermal runaway, and extinguishing EV and hybrid electric vehicle fires.


Featured image: A firefighter from the Illinois Fire Service Institute demonstrates occupant extraction best practices for EVs by cutting interior structural components of a GMC HUMMER EV Pickup. First responders are being taught to look out for orange-colored wiring that indicates high voltage. (Provided by GM)

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