LA CROSSE, Wis.--Electric cars are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to gas cars. As they change the car industry, they're also changing how first responders work.
Electric cars first hit the streets just a couple of years ago. Being more environmentally friendly and a big money saver in the long run are just some of the perks.
But, because they run on electricity, the safety measures drivers and first responders have to take are very different than dealing with a conventional car.
“This car is 273 pounds of torque and it is a blast to drive,” said Cullen Harbaugh a Chevrolet sales representative.
Revolutionizing the car industry, electric cars are appealing to drivers looking reduce their carbon footprint.
“Everyone wants to go efficient,” said Harbaugh. “They want to burn less fuel use less foreign oil. This is the car that's going to do that.”
Even with the environmental perks and being the safest car in its class, electric car engines are completely silent and that comes with a hefty set of responsibilities.
“You do have to be more aware of your surroundings,” said Harbaugh. “On the side of the column is a pedestrian alert. So, as you're going through and you see someone who is walking in front of you, you give them a little push on the button there and it's just a little chirp saying ‘hey I'm here, coming through don't walk in front of me.’”
This car has a 12-volt battery just like any other car but it also has another battery running at 355 volts. That's enough power to kill someone and that's got firefighter worried.
“Well, if we were to accidentally cut a wrong wire there's a possibility of getting electrocuted,” said Keith Fillinger, a La Crosse fire department engineer. “That process is completely different with a hybrid vehicle. This car has two electrical systems that we have to contend with now. So, we have two things to worry about now that we have to isolate and make sure they're turned off so it makes it a little more challenging for us.”
Responding to an emergency with an electrical car also means firefighters have to take extra precautions from the start.
“They don't really give us any indications that they're on,” said Fillinger. “On a typical gasoline vehicle you can hear the engine running. “If the vehicle's still in gear, if the driver takes their foot off the brake pedal unexpectedly, that vehicle can actually take off and it will do so without warning to us.”
The La Crosse fire department has trained for dealing with electrical cars in the past. As new models role out every year, the training will just be an ongoing process.
“It’s something we have to be really more aware of,” said Fillinger. “As technology changes we have to adapt with it.”
There is also the concern of water getting into the electrical wires when driving in the rain or if the car is submerged in water. There are safety measures in place with these electric cars to make sure no sort of electric shock happens.
Since the engine is also silent, first responders say drivers should double-check to make sure they turn their engines off before leaving their vehicles.