F.R.E.E. program trains first responders on hybrid vehicles

First responders learn about the new technology in hybrid cars from trained instructors at the F.R.E.E. event Nov. 14.
By Candice Monhollan Forty-five firefighters from Kennett, Avondale and Chester came out to train on hybrid cars at the F.R.E.E. event Nov. 14.

Hybrid cars are becoming more and more popular every day and have even spread into the realm of busses and tractor trailers.

While the technology increases, first responders have to stay on top of the changes with proper training on the newer vehicles to keep not only themselves safe, but also the people in the cars.

Unfortunately, budgets for fire fighters don't always allow for this training type of training and that's where Keenan Auto Body stepped in.

?State funding doesn't give them the ability to train on [these cars],? said Craig Camacho, marketing director of Keenan Auto Body. ?It's neat that we can do this kind of thing.?

In its fourth annual First Responders Emergency Extrication (F.R.E.E.) event, Keenan Auto Body brought in trainers from ESI Equipment, Inc.to teach local firefighters on donated hybrid cars.

?We don't always encounter [the cars] out on the street,? said Kennett Fire Chief Steve Melton. ?Teaching us the techniques of the hybrids is good for our guys and girls to learning the training tools.?

The cars, four in total, were donated by State Farm, who work as an insurance partner with Keenan Auto Body. They are deemed as economic total losses due to being late models with damage and roughly 100,000 miles on them.

?The insurance company knows that once the body shops start to do work, they're going to uncover more damage,? Camacho said. ?At that point, they total it. Those cars are the perfect candidate for this program.?

The evening began with a power-point presentation to show the first responders in attendance how to recognize the newer cars and to identify the difference between battery-powered, internal combustion engines and electric and how to power them down.

Also discussed were the new areas where air bags are now located and how potentially dangerous they are if accidentally cut into or accidentally deployed while trying to rescue people.

?It's important to keep up with the manufacturers have changed and made the cars safer and put the systems in their vehicles,? said Steve Martin, one of the trainers from ESI. ?This way, it's not a surprise when [first responders] run into something in the street.?

Training companies such as ESI approach the manufacturers and car companies to attend seminars and literature to keep tabs on the changes being made and to properly train others, which also helps them.

?I'm a practicing firefighter at the same time as a state instructor,? Martin said. ?My satisfaction is being able to give the current information to the people who are going to run into it in the street. It's going to make a difference somewhere along the line to the survival of a patient.?

While all this is going on, the firefighters are still on duty, so if a call comes in, they have to be on their way.

?They could have been in the middle of eating, got a call and they all run out,? Camacho said. ?In Middletown, we lost half of them and they were bumming out because they were just getting into it.?

The event is not only just fun for the firefighters, but also providing the important training necessary which is always a major factor for first responders.

?Training is our biggest deal,? Melton said. ?If we don't train for the real thing, then we're not prepared for when it happens out on the street.?

The event began through the National Auto Body Council, which Camacho is a board member of.

?The idea was to give back to the community,? he said. ?Being that we are in the automobile industry, what better way to share what we know with the firefighters??

The event has turned into a hit with first responders throughout the community and there are times when almost 80 will attend.

?They love it,? Camacho said. ?I get calls every year of, ?When are going to do that again?' It's nice to reach back out.?

This time around, 45 firefighters – and even a couple of EMTs – from Kennett, Avondale and Chester were in attendance.

To make it fair, the event is rotated around the different locations of Keenan Auto Body. Next year, the plan is to hold the event at the Avondale shop.

The training and this event is an invaluable asset to the firefighters.

?It's very good what Keenan Auto Body has done to bring Holmatro in with the instructors to show us the latest and greatest,? Melton said. ?This is job where if you think you know everything, you shouldn't be in the service anymore.?

About the Author

Candice Monhollan

Candice Monhollan is a 2012 Temple University graduate. She loves to cover sports, especially hockey. She enjoys marching with the Reading Buccaneers Drum & Bugle Corps and has a love of U.S. military history, which includes reenacting. Reach the author at cmonhollan@dailylocal.com .

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