Preparing for the (near) future
Electric Vehicle safety trainer Mike Klimkosky speaks to the Rhinelander area first responders at the Rhinelander Fire Department Oct. 4. Star Journal Photo
Rhinelander area first responders learn about electric vehicle safety
By Eileen Persike, Editor
RHINELANDER – No longer an oddity, even in the Northwoods, the number of electric vehicles on the road has increased noticeably in the past several years. The Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles reports there were more than 13,000 electric passenger vehicles registered in the state in 2022.
“Electrification is coming,” Department of Transportation Secretary Craig Thompson stated in the 2023Wisconsin Electric Vehicle Infrastructure plan. “The private sector has spoken. The major auto manufacturers are retooling and have announced ambitious plans to transition to producing predominantly electric vehicles in the near future.”
To prepare for that, Rhinelander GM and Wisconsin Chevy Dealers collaborated to bring electric vehicle safety training company EVsafe to provide training for local first and second responders and tow truck drivers. The object of the training was safety.
EVsafe trainer Mike Klimkosky began the session asking attendees what they have heard about EVs. The answers ranged from being a waste of money to horror stories about occupants stuck inside a burning Tesla. The good news, he said, was that he was not there to sell them an electric vehicle.
“I am here to give you guys as much information as I can to keep you safe in the line of duty,” said Klimkosky, who referred to EVs as “computers on wheels.”
The information included EV safety awareness, accessibility, fire suppression and extrication techniques.
Pine Lake Chief Fire Inspector Matt Fessenden said he had heard the horror stories, but learned EVs are “a lot safer than we assumed they were.” His biggest concern going into the training was how to identify EVs and how to get into them.
“We learned ways to identify these vehicles – some have charge ports in the front, and the logos are different; some with blue or green around them,” Fessenden said. ““We have seen a few Teslas on the road; luckily I have not responded to any accidents with the Teslas but we have some in the community – in the next few years, I think it’s going to be all these.”
Rhinelander Fire Chief Brian Tonnancour also said with the number of tourists the area sees, it was just a matter of time before first responders face an accident or fire scene involving an EV.
“First responders need to have working knowledge of how to disconnect the high voltage system to safely work on the vehicle,” Tonnancour stated. “We also need to understand how these vehicles are put together and where the battery is located. This critical information will allow the first responder to be more efficient while on scene of an emergency involving an electric vehicle.”
The three-hour session included hands-on training, so the first responders could get a look inside an electric vehicle, including a Tesla, Cadillac and a Hummer.
Fessenden was one of several participants from Pine Lake, who he said would go back and educate the other first responders and then expand that to include educating the community about EV safety.
“So far what surprises me,” he said, “is they don’t seem as difficult as I imagined.”