The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and West Virginia University's National Alternative Fuels Training Consortium (NAFTC) launched a training program specializing in teaching first responders how to treat crashes involving hybrids, battery-electric vehicles and other advanced-powertrain vehicles. NAFTC has also launched in iPhone app – and will do the same for Android smartphone users – that responders may use to quickly reference facts and instructions while in action.

Electric drive vehicles are as safe as conventional vehicles, but they are different.

The initiative is part of the DOE's Advanced Electric Drive Vehicle Education Program and breaks out training categories by four vehicle types: hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery electric vehicles and fuel cell electric vehicles. The NAFTC also offers a durable flipbook reference manual for emergency responders and educational videos, in addition to the smartphone apps. NAFTC will offer online training courses starting this year.

"Because more consumers are choosing electric drive vehicles, first responders must understand the differences between these and conventional, gasoline-powered vehicles, NAFTC Executive Director Al Ebron said in a statement. "Electric drive vehicles are as safe as conventional vehicles, but they are different."

The program reflects the expectation that alt-fuel vehicle purchases will continue to rise as gas prices stay high and automakers improve battery technology and shrink the price premium between alt-fuel and conventional vehicles. Last month, General Motors sold a monthly record 1,529 Chevrolet Volt extended-range plug-ins, while Nissan last year fell just 326 vehicles short of its 10,000-vehicle sales goal for 2011 for its battery-electric Leaf. Meanwhile, hybrids account for about one in 40 new vehicles sold in the U.S.