Electric vehicles are becoming more and more prevalent on the roads across the United States. Major car manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, almost all have electric car options as part of their lineup, and with the increase in gasoline prices and improved charging infrastructure, the electric car market is “hotter” than ever. With this increase of electric vehicles on our roads also comes new and sometimes very difficult challenges.
Electric vehicles, like Tesla’s, operate on high-voltage lithium-ion batteries. These Lithium-Ion batteries are filled with a flammable liquid electrolyte, which has the possibility of getting into what is called a “thermal runaway situation,” where the lithium-ion battery enters an uncontrollable, self-heating state. This can lead to the ejection of gas, high temperatures, smoke, and fire. These fires can burn for hours and require an immense amount of water to extinguish. The likely cause of fires in these electric vehicles comes from damaged or defective battery cells or shorts within the system. Although electric vehicle fires are less common than gasoline-powered vehicles, with an estimated 25 fires per 100,000 cars, the threat of electric vehicle fires is there and becoming more frequent as more and more hit the road.
Firefighters need to be prepared to handle fires in an electric vehicle should they have one. Many industry experts have criticized the lack of safety regulations. The National Transportation Safety Board (Wong 2022), which makes recommendations on vehicle safety, noted that emergency responder guidebooks are inadequate. NTSB found that the guidebooks lacked the necessary knowledge about safety standards for responders and would benefit from more research. (Wong 2022). It is estimated that more than half of the fire departments across the United States are unprepared to handle electric vehicle fires and that a third of them have no specific training for electric vehicle fires.
Firefighters across the nation need to know the best way to extinguish these electric vehicle fires. As firefighters, our go-to has always been water. However, it takes a copious amount of water to extinguish an electric vehicle fire. Reportedly several fire departments have spent hours on the scene, flowing thousands of gallons of water to extinguish the fire. Some experts advise that the best method for extinguishment is submersion, but that is not feasible due to the logistics around fully submerging a vehicle in water. A third option would be to let it burn out. In some situations, this might be possible, but if there are exposures, active rescues, extrication, or heavy traffic patterns, then letting it burn is not an option.
One option that is turning heads and making its case for the best option is fire blankets. Fire blankets are large blankets made of silicone glass fiber that can withstand extreme temperatures while retaining their oxygen-deprivation function. Even though a thermal runaway event can produce its own oxygen, the fire blanket is still good at controlling the flames and suppressing the smoke and toxic fumes or substances coming from the fire. This, in turn, makes the environment safer for everyone in the area. It also prevents fire departments from using profuse amounts of water, attempting to control or extinguish the fire, and creating unnecessary runoff of potentially hazardous materials.
Fire & EMS, LLC. is proud to carry Leader Stop, a large fire blanket. Leader Stop is a 517 Sq Ft. fire blanket designed to extinguish an incipient car fire, industrial machine fires, and metal garbage fires. Made with silicone glass fiber, it can withstand the extreme temperatures of car fires. It’s easy to use and can be deployed by two people. The fire blanket can be used to control the situation and reduce collateral damage, all while isolating the smoke and fire. Although it will not extinguish an electrical vehicle fire in a thermal runaway event, it can help provide control of the situation, which will reduce hazards to firefighters and bystanders. See it in action here.
Wong, S. (2022, August 10). Electric vehicle fires spark firefighter safety concerns. The Regulatory Review. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from https://www.theregreview.org/2022/08/11/wong-electric-vehicle-fires-spark-firefighter-safety-concerns/