Electric Vehicles Could Spark Crisis For Fire Departments Worldwide

Unlike traditional gasoline-powered vehicles, extinguishing an EV fire is not as straightforward, and firefighters are speaking up about it. EV fires are known to last longer, reignite, and emit toxic smoke. This makes them more difficult to control and poses a greater risk to firefighters and bystanders.

Lithium-ion batteries, which power EVs, contain highly flammable chemicals that can be difficult to extinguish. In addition, the toxic fumes released during an EV fire can be deadly.

Back in September, firefighters struggled to control an EV fire in Franklin, TN after a Nissan Leaf ignited while being charged. Drenching the vehicle in 45,000 gallons of water was eye-opening for Fire Marshal Andy King, in contrast to the usual 500 to 1,000 gallons required of a gas-powered car fire.

King remarked, “I think if we were faced with a similar scenario next time, we might need to let it burn.”

Despite the increasing number of EVs on the road, fire departments have not received adequate training and resources to effectively combat these fires.

The transition to EVs has been swift, leaving little time for fire departments to adapt their techniques. This lack of preparation leaves firefighters and the public at serious risk.

Car manufacturers and their suppliers have begun to invest in strategies to tackle the challenges posed by EV fires. Audi has filed a patent application for a battery that can extinguish its own fire.

Companies such as Honeywell, Nexceris, and 3M, are working on early warning sensors, materials to contain thermal runaway, and safer battery technologies, such as solid-state batteries.

One promising solution is the development of solid-state batteries — which use solid electrolytes instead of liquid ones — as they are considered to be safer and less prone to thermal runaway.

However, despite being discussed for years, solid-state batteries are not yet widely available on the market. Their widespread use could drastically reduce the risks involved with EV fires.

Fire departments and their associations are taking steps to educate and train firefighters on EV firefighting protocols.

The International Association of Fire Chiefs’ battery committee is actively developing recommendations for these techniques. The NFPA Fire Protection Research Foundation is also conducting research on EV-firefighting protocols and aims to publish recommendations by the end of next year.

As the number of EVs on the road is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, the Biden administration, in particular, should prioritize allocating resources to train and equip fire departments, especially in small towns with volunteer firefighters who may encounter EV fires infrequently.