Electric car fires, a new challenge for firefighters

Electric car fires, a new challenge for firefighters

A car that starts more than three weeks after reaching the pound, 17,000 liters of water, the emergency construction of a mini-basin to submerge electric batteries: the fire of a Tesla in early June surprised the District Fire Department of Sacramento.

Extinguished, the fire continued to resume. Even after flipping the car on its side and directing the water directly at the batteries.

“We didn’t expect to find ourselves with so many challenges” in controlling the flames, says Parker Wilbourn, a fire captain in the Californian agglomeration.

With more and more hybrids and electrics on the road, “we are entering a new era of fires, we must adapt and find solutions,” he believes.



Because “every second counts” during an incident, General Motors (GM) announced Thursday that it will extend its first-aid training program to electric vehicle interventions in the United States and Canada. The group currently markets four models in this category and aims to offer 30 by 2025.

The objective is to provide technical information on batteries, share good practices and “dispel misunderstandings”, explains a press release: think, for example, of cutting off the motor since the motor of electric vehicles does not make noise, or fight against the idea that You should not put water in the batteries.

Electric and hybrid vehicles remain a minority on American roads, but they accounted for nearly 10% of cars purchased in the United States last year, according to Cox Automotive.

The US Highway Safety Agency (NHTSA) says it doesn’t have enough data on battery-electric car fires to draw any conclusions.

But the latter are not a priori more frequent or dangerous than those of gasoline cars, says the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

On the other hand, they require specific procedures, adds the organization that has offered specific training since 2010.

It usually carries much more water, between 11,350 liters and 30,300 liters approximately according to a guide prepared by Tesla for first aid care. Which is not necessarily easy in rural areas where there are no fire hydrants.

It is also common for batteries to catch fire several hours or even days after the initial incident, due to a phenomenon known as “thermal runaway” that can occur in damaged lithium-ion batteries. Tesla recommends monitoring battery temperature for at least 24 hours after a fire.

“Firefighters are used to the risks” associated with electricity, says NFPA’s Michael Gorin. But not in a car.

Manufacturers are required to publish a first aid guide for each model they produce.



In a report published in late 2020, the US Transportation Accident Investigation Agency (NTSB) recommended that manufacturers of vehicles equipped with lithium-ion batteries follow the same format, with specific information on how to extinguish and monitor a fire.

In early June, it noted that only eight manufacturers out of 22 involved had fully integrated its recommendations.

Firefighters arrive at the scene of the accident “and they don’t know what to do,” says Michael Brooks, legal director of the Center for Automotive Safety. “How to evacuate a passenger from a burning electric vehicle? How do you know how the fire can spread?

Just like traditional cars, those equipped with batteries can also catch fire when they are stopped.

Last summer, GM advised owners of certain electric Chevrolet Bolts not to park them indoors or charge them unattended overnight, before launching a mass recall of the model.

Failures in batteries manufactured by the South Korean group LG could, under certain circumstances, trigger fires. GM eventually had to suspend production of the Bolt for several months.

The NHTSA launched a specific proceeding in April on LG batteries, involved in several recalls for the Volkswagen, Chrysler (Stellantis), Hyundai, GM and Mercedes brands.

All types of transport powered by electric batteries are concerned: to prevent fires, the supervisory agency for social housing in New York has proposed to ban all electric bicycles or electric bicycle batteries, at least of the same size, from apartments and common areas. title that mopeds.

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