In a crisis, first responders rely on their experience and training to safely deal with dangerous situations. As the world moves toward a future where electric vehicles become mainstream, these men and women require new skills to confront unfamiliar electrical and mechanical systems.
The risk of untrained people interacting with high voltage from an EV fire is a scary proposition. In the case of a highway accident, would the average first responder know how to safely turn off the power from the car’s battery? How about a garage fire where an EV is being charged; potentially with 220 volts?
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is well aware that electric vehicles pose a threat to untrained response teams, repair crews and passengers. The agency has recently released a report entitled “Safety Risks to Emergency Responders from Lithium-Ion Battery Fires in Electric Vehicles.”
The lengthy report includes several case studies and includes a section entitled “Guidance for Emergency Responders.”
This guidance includes:
Easy to understand Battery Disconnect procedures
Teams need access to understand how to disconnect the battery for specific vehicles.
Fire Suppression Methods
The NTSB recommends using large amounts of water to extinguish fires and cool batteries.
The risk of Thermal Runaway and Re-ignition
Emergency and repair crews need to take action to mitigate instances of re-ignition, which can happen weeks after battery damage first occurred.
Procedures to release stranded energy in damaged batteries
Those involved in the recovery, repair and storage of damaged EVs need to deal with stored energy in batteries, particularly if external circuits and wiring mutilated or shorted out,
Formatting of Emergency response guides
Emergency guides be in a standard format, so first responders can find necessary information quickly, with a minimum of searching.
Upgraded Guidance and Information sharing
Vehicle manufacturers need to enhance their safety guides and manuals, so fire and repair crews have a more in-depth understanding of proper repair and storage of damaged EVs.
Fire and emergency crews have decades of experience working on crippled vehicles equipped with internal combustion engines. Best practices for working safely around wrecked gasoline-powered cars and trucks are well established.
Many of these entrenched methods do not apply to electric vehicles. EVs require completely different measures in case of wreck, fire or flood. Even highly experienced first responders will need training in the proper methods to handle EVs in an emergency. Failure to understand the intricacies of high voltage mechanisms could spell disaster for themselves, their crews and bystanders.