Does your local fire department know what to do?
Over the past few years, there have been a number of documented cases involving electric vehicles catching fire. Typically, these fires are the result of serious collisions, though some have occurred under mysterious circumstances, most likely related to battery pack defects. For example, in early 2018 a Tesla Model X caught on fire twice in 24 hours following an accident on a California highway. Six days later another fire erupted. As EVs become more commonplace, important fire-related questions arise, among them whether fire departments are properly trained to handle them.
According to a new report from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), this does not appear to be the case.
The NTSB's investigation revealed that only half of US fire departments are prepared to deal with electric vehicle fires. Furthermore, 31 percent of departments claim their firefighters don't have any sort of specific training for such a scenario for both EVs and hybrids. Half of all departments also admitted they don't have any post-crash protocols in place. But what's the difference between extinguishing fires from burning vehicles? After all, it's not like combustion-engines are anything new.
Turns out the procedures and strategies are quite different. You see, a burning gas tank isn't the same as a burning lithium-ion battery pack. The NTSB's report cites a US Fire Administration (USFA) report stating EV fires "can exceed 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit."
Also, "applying water or foam may cause a violent flare-up as the water molecules separate into explosive hydrogen and oxygen gases." Other dangers EV-related fires pose include toxic fumes not present in gasoline fires, and the risk of electric shock. Now, it needs to be noted the NTSB's report surveyed only 32 fire departments out of a total of 29,705 fire departments nationwide, as of 2018. Also, the report does not say where those surveyed departments are located; not all fire departments have the same levels of experience, especially involving EV fires.
But the report's bottom-line conclusion is that fire departments and EMTs need additional training on how to deal with EV fires, and the sooner the better.