First responders could be at risk from fire outbreaks in Electric Vehicles, says NTSB report

A few years ago, a 2014 Tesla Model S  was involved in a fire outbreak on the streets of California, which left both onlookers and fire responders puzzled. The fire took several gallons of water and a couple of foam piles to extinguish. According to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the fire showed unusual occurrences, which led the agency to conduct thorough investigations on lithium-ion batteries’ function and the potential risk they pose to EV users.

“The NTSB started investigating battery fires after crashes and fires in Lake Forest and Mountain View, California, and in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, in 2017 and 2018,” revealed a story written by Associated Press (AP). “It also probed a non-crash fire in West Hollywood, California. Three of the batteries reignited after fires were extinguished. All four vehicles made by Tesla, which is the top-selling electric vehicle maker in the US.”

After completing the probe, NTSB wrote an 80-page report dubbed ‘Safety Risks to Emergency Responders from Lithium-ion Battery Fires in Electric Vehicles.’ It was released in November 2020 and involved a review of safety guidelines detailed by 36 EV manufacturers.

“None of the guides spoke to limiting the risk of energy stored in the batteries, such as procedures for minimizing reignition or instructions on where and how to spray water to cool the batteries,” said NTSB. “One way to deal with damaged batteries is to pull them from the vehicle and soak them in a saltwater bath to discharge the energy,” the report explained.

This report is raising eyebrows among EV users and potential consumers. Nevertheless, the EV industry has seen a surge in new EV models. From EV pioneers like Tesla to conventional car manufacturers like General Motors, there seems to be a competition on making new electric cars. Electric cars have won the hearts of many governments and consumers because they are environmentally sustainable. They are the bridges between the current levels of carbon emission and the targeted zero emissions by midcentury.

According to the Office of Energy Efficiency &Renewable Energy, “Plug-in Electric vehicles are connected, fun, and practical. They can reduce emissions and even save you money. EVs can also reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change and smog, improving public health and reducing ecological damage. Charging your EV on renewable energy such as solar or wind minimizes these emissions even more.”

However, the risks of battery fires could taint the excellent name of EVs. “Crash damage and resulting fires may prevent first responders from accessing the high-voltage disconnects in electric vehicles, “the report stated. “The instructions in most manufacturers’ emergency response guides for fighting high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires lack necessary, vehicle-specific details on suppressing the fires. Thermal runaway and multiple battery re-ignition after initial fire suppression is safety risks in high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires.” Moving forward, EV manufacturers will need to give clear and detailed precautionary measures on preventing battery fires and handling the situation in case of crash fires.

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