Emergency responders need more training on EV fires, NTSB warns

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First responders need more training to deal with the possible fire risk from crashed electric cars, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a report released Wednesday.

In high-speed crashes with high impact forces, lithium-ion battery cells are likely to be damaged, creating a fire risk, the NTSB said in a press release accompanying the report. However, research, safety standards and manufacturer emergency response guides haven’t adequately addressed how to deal with EV fires, the agency said, adding that first responders also risk electric shock from high-voltage wiring.

The NTSB made a series of recommendations to address this issue, including standardized automaker emergency-response guides modeled on International Standards Organization (ISO) standard 17840 and SAE International recommended practice J2990. Availability of these guides could also be factored into a vehicle’s federal New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) safety rating, the agency suggested.

Note that NCAP (which is primarily composed of crash-test ratings) and safety regulations are overseen by the separate National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NTSB investigates transportation safety issues and makes recommendations, but has no rule-making power.

Polestar 2 crash test

Polestar 2 crash test

The NTSB report also recommended additional research into ways of de-energizing damaged battery packs, or reducing the possibility of thermal runaway, which can result in fires. Years ago, the NHTSA considered the idea of “draining” EV batteries of electrolyte to halt any reactions brought about by a collision. But the idea was abandoned as it would take too much specialized knowledge of every vehicle model.

Normalized for vehicle miles traveled, instances of fire are far lower or EVs than for gasoline vehicles.

However, as noted in the NTSB report, first responders may not be as familiar with EVs as with gasoline vehicles. The same goes for the general public, which is why reports of EV fires tend to get spotlighted.

The past year has brought more attention to EV fires because of high-profile incidents involving the Chevrolet Bolt EV, Hyundai Kona Electric, and Tesla Model S and Model X. Most were related to charging, however, not crashes.



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