Rurally Speaking: RVs, EVs, and Escapees Part 3–The Wrap Up

Carl Haddon implores "dinosaurs" to adapt to change.

By Carl J. Haddon

The Recap

So as not to rehash all that is contained in Parts 1 and 2, allow me to simply list some of the gross challenges that we are finding (as rural fire departments) with RVs, EVs, and Escapees:

EVs (Electric Vehicles):

  • Electric vehicles are becoming commonplace, and they aren’t just passenger vehicles anymore. UPS, FEDEX, Amazon, buses, trash trucks, and big rigs are also launching electric commercial fleets as we speak.
  • Most fire departments are not as educated about the fire and extrication hazards associated with electric vehicles as they need to be to be successful at crashes and fires involving them.
  • Most fire departments are not adequately equipped or trained to deal with electric vehicle and lithium ion battery (in thermal runaway) related fires.
  • In rural settings especially, most electric passenger vehicles are charged in single-family dwelling garages, which creates many new fire exposure concerns.

RVs (Recreational Vehicles):

  • RVs come in varying shapes and sizes. There are 10 times more RVs on the road today than there was in 2019.
  • Many are driven or towed by inexperienced drivers. You do not need a commercial driver’s license or special license endorsement to drive or tow an RV. This is resulting in more crashes and fire department responses.
  • Unlike most big rigs, RVs aren’t hazmat placarded. We have no idea what’s inside these rigs and what we’re up against when we roll up to a crash involving these vehicles. These vehicles present Class A (run-of-the-mill combustibles), Class B (flowing fuel fires), Class C (electrical fires), and Class D (combustible metal fires) fire challenges.
  • Crashes and fires involving RVs can tie up fire personnel and shut down rural highways for hours upon hours.

Escapees:

  • With more people being able to work remotely, many of our rural communities are being inundated with new people in numbers like we’ve not seen before. This number of folks is naturally (and sometimes not so naturally) impacting rural infrastructure (e.g., rural fire departments) that may already be stretched for volunteer members.
  • Whether vacationers or transplants, escapees aren’t always accustomed to “special rural driving hazards” (agricultural equipment on the highway, Elk, deer, moose, and other big-game animals, “unique” weather conditions, etc.) that we who live and work in these areas often take for granted.
  • Tourist escapees provide much-needed and -welcomed cash flow to many of the rural communities that they visit. They come to enjoy some of the same things that we enjoy about living in rural America (outdoor sports, rivers, lakes, hunting, fishing, rafting, camping, etc.). With this enjoyment comes our understanding as rural residents and firefighters that “tourists are tourists,” and if nothing more than because of the sheer increase in their numbers, our call volume is going to increase, and often, our response times are going to increase.

The Good News

With this new influx of escapees often comes an influx of dollars for rural fire departments by way of millage, local bed tax, and other such revenue streams. Budgets can be increased for new or newer apparatus, equipment, and firefighter training. Additionally, many rural areas are seeing an increase in new volunteers for their departments.

The Wrap Up

Our local departments here in this rural part of the country are faced with these exact challenges. We’ve had to take a long hard look at these and other related changes to the rural world we now live in. One of the absolute hardest things to implement in the fire service (rural or urban) is change. Although unpopular, we have to change. Many of us in the rural fire service are older, and getting older every day. Some of us “older” souls and officers are dinosaurs that resist change at every turn. It’s often said that “dinosaurs lay dinosaur eggs”—dinosaurs making more dinosaurs gets us nowhere.

If you take another look at the aforementioned challenges listed above, you will see that combating them will take department commitment, financial investment, and, yes, change. Trust me when I offer to you that the time to think about dealing with an electric vehicle/LI battery fire is not when you’re faced with one for the first time. Acquiring information costs nothing; making the right choices for apparatus, equipment, and training has NEVER been more critical; change is hard; allowing tragedy to drive change is even harder.

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