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Navigating the Challenges of Electric Vehicle Fires: Safety Tips for Owners and Responders

Understanding the Unique Risks Posed by EV Fires and How to Stay Safe

In the realm of modern transportation, electric vehicles (EVs) have been steadily gaining popularity, touted for their eco-friendliness and efficiency. However, a growing concern accompanies this surge in EV adoption, one that is rarely discussed but carries significant implications for safety. Electric vehicles catching fire is quite a common occurrence, but what is more uncommon is the knowledge required to deal with such fires, especially in times of emergency when there is a direct threat to life. U.S. safety investigators assert that electric vehicle fires present hazards to first responders, and manufacturers lack sufficient guidelines to ensure their safety.

Key Takeaways:

  • EV fires are harder to extinguish than gasoline engine fires, and adding water to an EV fire can actually worsen the situation.
  • The high temperature and highly combustible chemicals in electric car batteries pose significant threats to firefighters.
  • Lithium-ion batteries in electric cars can experience “thermal runaway,” leading to intense fires and occasional explosions, which has become a concern for vehicle transportation and parking structures.

Unlike gasoline engine fires that can be put out more easily, EV fires are much harder to douse. One crucial aspect that people tend to miss out on is that water damage can cause fires even after your car dries out. Thus, no matter what, don’t add water to an EV fire all by yourself.

As per a report from Business Insider, not only is the high temperature from an EV fire posing a threat to firefighters but highly combustible chemicals in electric car batteries are posing a much greater threat.

The large lithium-ion batteries utilized in electric cars present notable fire hazards, and there are distinct characteristics that make addressing these fires more challenging. A significant distinction lies in the potential occurrence of “thermal runaway,” a situation where an EV battery experiences repeated overheating and over-pressurization, resulting in fires and occasional explosions.

These intense fires have become a concern for ships transporting EVs, causing substantial damage to parking structures and prompting widespread recalls in certain instances.

The damage resulting from a collision can potentially cause a short-circuit in an EV, potentially leading to a fire, as per O’Connor. It is prudent to have a qualified professional examine the battery following any type of accident, irrespective of its extent. O’Connor emphasized:

“It’s hard to judge what level of accident can cause damage to the battery – a little fender-bender might do it, a big crash definitely will. It’s always safer just to get it checked.”

Brian O’Connor, a technical services engineer for the National Fire Protection Association, stated important safety information for EV car owners and operators to take note of. Here’s what he had to say.

Water Entry is a Big Red Flag: “If your electric vehicle encounters flooding or navigates through deep water, ensure it is towed and examined by a mechanic before making attempts to restart it. Even if you think the car has dried out, any amount of water retained in the battery can cause a short-circuit and start a fire.”

Addressing the extensive flooding experienced in Florida this year due to hurricanes, O’Connor highlighted a common issue. He stated:

“After the flooding receded or dried out, people would say, ‘Oh let me see if my car works.’

“Because there was still water in the batteries, the vehicles short-circuited and started a fire.”

Provide Emergency Responders With Maximum Information: “After 911 has been dialed following an EV fire, it is considered best practice to provide the dispatcher with as much information about the vehicle as possible, so they can extinguish the fire most quickly and efficiently.”

Hence, it’s crucial to relay the make and model of the electric vehicle, as first responders frequently have access to manufacturer response guides. O’Connor emphasized:

“There might be high-voltage wires that go through different parts of the car, the batteries might be located in different places – all these things help inform the first responders about how to best tackle the fire.”

In conclusion, the rise of electric vehicles has brought about a pressing concern – the safety of first responders and vehicle owners when faced with EV fires. Understanding the unique challenges posed by these fires, such as thermal runaway and water-related risks, is crucial in ensuring the safety of all involved.

Summary: Dealing with electric vehicle fires is a unique challenge, with the potential for thermal runaway and water-related risks making them harder to control. Safety measures are essential for both vehicle owners and first responders.

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