Last week, Toyota introduced their new hydrogen fuel car, Mirai, to California streets. Like any alternative fuel vehicle (AFV), cars powered by hydrogen present unique challenges for the fire service and emergency responders.
“In general, AFVs are different for first responders because they’re used to responding to vehicles that have internal combustion engines. They have decades of experience addressing vehicle fires that have that sort of technology, so AFVs present new challenges for emergency response crews,” says Michael Gorin, a project manager at NFPA.
NFPA offers training and other resources for those dealing with AFV emergency situations. There is a free online training program that takes a comprehensive look at every type of AFV. There is also an AFV emergency field guide - a single resource for emergency responders that includes procedures for any type of AFV. This document, compiled last year, contains specific information for dealing with a Mirai vehicle in the event of an emergency.
In Mirai and vehicles like it, a fuel cell powered by hydrogen gas replaces the traditional gasoline or diesel engine. As Gorin explains, hydrogen is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas that cannot be odorized like other flammable gases that first responders are familiar with. Emergency responders, says Gorin, should use thermal imagers when dealing with any hydrogen emergency in order to determine the presence of fire. Any hydrogen fires that do occur should not be extinguished unless the flow of gas can be stopped.
While AFVs are still a rarity on the roads, that will likely change as the technology behind these vehicles becomes more accessible and as prices fall closer to what a working person can afford. Gorin points out, Tesla recently introduced their Model 3, which at $35,000 comes at a high cost, but one much lower than their other AFVs on the market today.
“The general sense in the industry is that the popularity of AFVS will continue to expand as the vehicles become more affordable for the public,” he says.