Cooperatives work together to provide important fire training

EV fire school photo


Cooperatives around the world operate according to the same seven principles. Two of those principles are “concern for community” and “cooperation among cooperatives.” Guided by these principles, electric cooperatives from North Dakota and Montana united to bring an important safety training to the North Dakota Fire School in February.

For the first time, North Dakota firefighters were offered training on alternative fuel vehicle (AFV) fires, which include hybrid and electric vehicle (EV) fires. Held Feb. 25 and 26, the training attracted nearly 120 volunteer firefighters.

As EVs become more prevalent in the state, it is important for emergency responders to familiarize themselves with these vehicles and how to safely respond to an accident. “We are seeing more and more hybrid and electric vehicles in the state. And, for many of our firefighters, there is still a mystique around them. There are so many rumors about what you can and can't do when responding to an emergency dealing with one of these vehicles,” says Robert Knuth, state training director, North Dakota
Firefighters Association.

It was the drive of Capital Electric Cooperative (CEC) Energy Services Technician Jared Nygaard that made this important training a reality. A former volunteer firefighter, Nygaard saw a need for the training and went to work to find a solution. “I knew the fire school would be a prime location because it provides training for rural firefighters. Rural communities — that’s who our co-ops serve. We wanted something geared toward the safety of our members, as well as the emergency responders, many of whom are also our members,” says Nygaard.

After researching training programs and instructors, Nygaard visited with CEC General Manager Paul Fitterer, who rallied the troops. “Paul wanted to get it out to the other cooperatives,” says Nygaard. “He sent out an email at 5:30 p.m., and by 9 a.m. the next morning, we already had 10 other co-ops committed to sponsoring the training.”

In the end, 17 electric cooperatives from North Dakota and Montana committed to sponsoring the course, which cost $13,500. When Knuth got the call from Nygaard, he says he jumped at the opportunity.

“Before Jared contacted us, we didn’t know this training was available,” says Knuth. “And if we had, budget constraints would have likely prevented us from providing the training on our own. So, we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to partner with North Dakota’s electric cooperatives.”

The cooperatives hired the National Fire Protection Association to teach the course. In addition to the classroom training, firefighters also received hands-on training with cars that were lent for the school. Verendrye Electric Cooperative provided its all-electric Chevrolet Bolt. Ryan Nissan provided a Toyota Prius, and a Tesla was brought by a CEC member.

“The class was very well-received by those who attended,” says Knuth. “Word got out about the class, and people were trying to change their schedule for the second session. I had three of my firefighters attend that class, and they said it was one of the better ones that they have attended in several years.”

One of those firefighters was Jennifer Weichmann, who also serves as the director of emergency management for Ward County.

“This is an emerging technology, not just in North Dakota, but all over the world. And, I think this training is super important. Not only does it prepare our firefighters to respond to vehicle accidents and fires, but it also helps keep our firefighters safe by teaching them what they're up against,” says Weichmann. “Taking this course really helped me understand what some of those risks are so our people don't get hurt, and we can do our best to protect or mitigate against what might happen to those involved in an accident involving an alternative fuel vehicle.”

That importance is also keenly felt by Knuth, who hopes to continue this partnership with electric cooperatives into the future.

“From all of us at the North Dakota Firefighters Association, I can't express our thanks enough. From the bottom of our hearts, we really appreciate the support that the co-ops gave us to allow us to have this class,” Knuth says.

Sponsors for the training included: Burke-Divide Electric Cooperative, Capital Electric Cooperative, Cass County Electric Cooperative, Dakota Valley Electric Cooperative, Goldenwest Electric Cooperative, KEM Electric Cooperative, Lower Yellowstone Rural Electric Cooperative, McKenzie Electric Cooperative, McLean Electric Cooperative, Mor- Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative, Mountrail-Williams Electric Cooperative, Nodak Electric Cooperative, North Central Electric Cooperative, Northern Plains Electric Cooperative, Roughrider Electric Cooperative, Slope Electric Cooperative, Verendrye Electric Cooperative and Basin Electric Power Cooperative.

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