By Jeff Julian and Gary Garrisi
Jeff Julian and Gary Garrisi are first responder trainers for the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC). Mr. Julian has 40 years of experience as a first responder and public safety trainer in Yuba, CA. Since 2011, Mr. Julian has trained first responders across the United States in safely working with alternative fuel vehicles. Mr. Garrisi has nearly 30 years of experience as a first responder, and has worked with the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium as a trainer since 2008.
Note: The information contained in this article is not a substitute for dedicated Alternative Fuel Vehicle Safety Training. Attempting to assist with a vehicle incident of any kind without proper knowledge, skills, and experience can be dangerous and may result in harm to the responder and those involved in the incident.
This year, On Scene will focus on case studies of incidents involving Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFVs).
AFVs are just as safe as conventional vehicles, but they are different. Consequently, incidents involving alternative fuel vehicles require specialized procedures from first responders.
This month’s case study is based on an incident involving a compressed natural gas fuel system and is being provided to show the need for first responders to be properly trained when dealing with these incidents.
On April 3, 2014, residents in Howard, Wisconsin, heard a loud explosion. Arriving at the scene, witnesses found a box truck had been destroyed. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene, and the passenger had been thrown from the vehicle.
The vehicle was operated by Ace Manufacturing Industries, a manufacturer of heavy duty clutches and clutch components. Both the driver and passenger were employees of Ace Manufacturing.
The Howard Fire Department arrived to secure the scene and the area was evacuated in case of additional explosions. Brown County Hazmat Teams were called in to assess the threat of a fuel leak and a reconstruction team to document the scene.
“Something in the load of the vehicle shifted and it compromised the compressed natural gas fuel system, consequently there was a detonation of the fuel system that injured one of the people in the vehicle and there was also a fatality,” said Ed Janke, the director of Howard Public Safety, to local news outlets at the time.
“We notified Green Bay Hazmat team to assist us in our investigation,” said Janke. “They found that the vehicle had actually off gassed and we determined the scene was safe.”
The Ace Manufacturing truck was transporting materials between two company facilities on the half-mile long road. During transport the materials slid forward and punctured a compressed natural gas tank stored behind the cab of the truck, causing the tank to explode.
Recognizing the need for first responder safety training in alternative fuel vehicles, the fire officials in Howard and the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College turned to the National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) to conduct their First Responder Safety Training to learn proper procedures in responding to incidents involving alternative fuel vehicles.
Just over a month after the incident, 23 first responders and representatives from local fire departments and local fleets attended this two-day safety training at the Howard County Fire Department.
“We decided to conduct the class to better educate instructors throughout Wisconsin on how to handle events. We had previous training on hybrid electric vehicles only, and this course introduced instructors to other types of vehicles,” said Christopher Hohol, public safety instructor at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. “Training is very important to responders because incidents today are not standard. You cannot confirm easily what is and is not a non-conventional vehicle. This training will assist instructors in delivering that message to responders.”
The NAFTC’s First Responder Safety Training prepares first responders to safely and effectively respond to accidents involving a variety of alternative fuel vehicles, including electric drive vehicles and vehicles that run on natural gas, biofuels, ethanol, hydrogen, and propane. Currently there are courses for firefighters, law enforcement, and EMS personnel.