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Electric cars: adding new hazards for firefighters, removing old ones

Cars, pick-ups, SUVs, motorcycles and tractor-trailers are all dangerous machines. They get us from place to place at high speeds, so when two of them collide, there's a real danger of serious injuries.

What many people don't realize is that there's a possibility of injuries to firefighters and others who respond to car accidents, too. That's why the La Crosse Fire Department is training its staff now in how to respond to the special hazards presented by the coming generation of electric vehicles.

Though electric vehicles remove one very significant element of danger -- fires caused by leaking gasoline -- they present new dangers posed by high-voltage electricity.

La Crosse firefighters are learning how to deal with those hazards at an electric-car training session at Volk Field Air National Guard Base in Camp Douglas.

A fire service training director at Wisconsin Technical College said one of the biggest myths to dispel among responders and the public is that if an electric car is in water, it will create dangerous electric shocks. That's simply not true, he said.

However, it is true that firefighters must take extra care when cutting through electric vehicles to extricate people trapped inside after an accident. That's because there are several high-voltage wires in the car's interior. Each wire has a bright orange covering.

Though electric car manufacturers make the vehicles look a lot like gas-powered cars, it's easy to identify an electric vehicle by labels on the front and rear fenders.

La Crosse firefighters are instructed to make those checks now so that they stay safe and the people inside the vehicles stay safe, too.

Source: La Crosse Tribune: "Electric cars pose new hazards for firefighters," Jessica Larsen, Nov. 2, 2011

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