Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on March 2, 2015.

FROM SMART PHONES TO ELECTRIC VEHICLES, solid-state batteries such as lithium-ion are part of everyday life. Now the same technology, on a larger scale, is being used to build energy storage systems, or ESS, which are increasingly found in everything from homes and commercial buildings to power plants and naval war ships. Other battery technologies are also emerging, as are innovative chemistries that are advancing ESS development.

Recently, I participated in a webinar hosted by the Clean Energy States Alliance that looked at the Department of Energy’s “Energy Storage Safety Strategic Plan,” released in December. The plan was created by a team at Sandia Labs with the goal of identifying needs to be addressed for the widespread deployment of ESS. It also highlighted responder needs, including lack of understanding of the chemistries used in the batteries to produce the electrical charge; how to safely control an ESS during an unplanned event, such as thermal runaway of battery cells; and the need for responders and ESS managers to conduct pre-incident planning.

The responder community, and the fire service in particular, have always adapted to emerging technologies. Sometimes that adaptation was through experience, interacting with the technology during a medical emergency, fire, or natural disaster. This type of interaction often led to less-than-positive outcomes, with responders frustrated by the inability to place the technology in a safe mode—such as turning it off—so they could perform their critical duties. But a better way is to include responders in the roll-out of the technology, considering their needs and the tactical implications when the technology is impacted by an emergency event.

A great example is how hybrid and electric passenger vehicles (EVs) were introduced to the fire service. Five years ago, as a new generation of these vehicles was about to be released, General Motors approached NFPA to partner with them in developing and delivering awareness-level training for the fire service. This was followed by NFPA receiving a Department of Energy grant to develop a training curriculum and delivery platform to share this information with as many firefighters as possible. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an industry association, became a partner and provided additional funding. The Fire Protection Research Foundation also partnered with NFPA.

This video takes the data gathered through the HEV/EV high voltage battery burn study conducted by the NFPA’s Fire Protection Research Foundation and breaks it down into a series of tactical considerations and best practices for extinguishing fires in HEV and EVs.

 More than 40,000 firefighters have received this training, and two Assistance to Firefighter Grants have been used to update the curriculum to include new vehicle models, electrically powered trucks and buses, and other topics. The EV Responder Safety Training Program is now a free, online program for the U.S. fire service.

It might seem odd that NFPA can help close gaps in ESS knowledge by providing responder training, just as we did for EVs. While we have a strong commitment to the development of codes and standards, we have an equal commitment to responder safety and assisting them in understanding emerging technologies through training and research. These efforts, coupled with the broad technical knowledge found in our codes and standards, provide a complete solution to addressing the responder gaps identified by the Department of Energy. NFPA is much more than a standards development organization—we are also a facilitator for the safe deployment of emerging technologies.

KEN WILLETTE is division manager for Public Fire Protection at NFPA.