Nissan LEAF First Responders Manual Highlights Special Needs of Electric Cars in Emergencies

By · December 20, 2010

Flowchart from the Nissan LEAF First Responders Guide showing how to ensure the high voltage system is turned off.

Flowchart from the Nissan LEAF First Responders Guide showing how to ensure the high voltage system is turned off.

Thanks to our friends over at the My Nissan LEAF discussion forum, the "2011 Nissan LEAF First Responders Guide" has been made available for all to read.

After reading through it I feel comforted that the car's mechanical simplicity in some ways creates an easier environment for emergency workers to operate in compared to combustion-engined vehicles. However, some of the special requirements of the LEAF give you pause to think about how first responders may be slowed down in rescuing EV drivers in emergency situations.

For instance, the guide indicates that the first thing to do when handling a Nissan LEAF in an emergency situation is to ensure the high voltage system is off. The LEAF has both a low voltage 12V lead-acid battery system which runs the power electronics on board the vehicle and the 403V lithium-ion battery pack. First responders are told to disconnect both the high voltage system and the 12V system before performing any first response actions.

While that may sound straightforward, as you can see from the flowchart above, this task can range from incredibly easy (pushing a button) to exceedingly difficult (reaching through a mangled mess to unscrew some bolts and take out a plug) based on how much damage the vehicle has sustained. In addition, once the high voltage system is turned off and the 12V battery is disconnected, rescuers are told to wait 10 minutes for the system to completely discharge before performing any first response actions unless they simply can't turn off the high voltage system at all—in which case they are told that they can wear "appropriate" personal protection equipment and use caution.

I can imagine many first response situations where waiting 10 minutes would be the difference between life and death. To be fair, I'm sure first responder guides for conventional vehicles also say things like "wait 10 minutes for fuel to drain from hoses" or something, but that many first responders ignore these warnings to complete their first duty of saving lives. Nonetheless, with such new technology, first responders may be hesitant to do anything else than what the guide says until they have enough experience. The LEAF guide also says that the car can't be cut open with the "jaws of life" until 10 minutes has elapsed after the high voltage system has been turned off—I'm hard pressed to think of any situation that requires jaws of life where waiting 10 minutes would be an option.

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