NTSB report says EV fires are a major weak point for Fire Departments

A new study has been published by the National Transportation Safety Board, best known as the NTSB, showing that about 50 percent of fire departments are not readily equipped to tackle an electric vehicle fire.

The NTSB is a federal agency of the United States in charge of investigating civil transportation incidents. US Airways Flight 1549, best known as “the Miracle on the Hudson,” and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon used on 9/11 aircraft were domestic commercial flights, are some of the most notorious cases they have analyzed.

It is also the duty of the NTSB to assess the preparedness of different agencies in an accident across the country, which created questions about how ready fire departments were when an EV caught fire.

While this is a very unlikely occurrence based on data published in Tesla’s Safety Report, one of the company’s EVs catches fire once every 175 million miles, it is still important to know how to extinguish one if it were to happen. Fire departments must be ready for a fire with the ever-growing presence of EVs on the route.

In 2018, the investigation surveyed 32 fire departments and analyzed their preparedness to handle an EV fire. Although the inquiry was initiated more than two years ago, the findings of the NTSB were only reported earlier this week.

The government agency’s study revealed that 50% of the 32 fire departments had no “post-crash/fire protocols currently in place for hybrid electric/electric vehicles.” 6.25% operated under “written policy,” 12.5% under “Standard Operating Procedure,” 21.88% under “Best Industry Practice,” and 9.38% under “Flexible Operating Plans.” The NTSB also indicated that the majority of the departments surveyed are utilizing “general tactics that can be applied to hybrid electric/electric vehicles or other similar incidents.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, however, states that managing an EV fire requires additional expertise and a dedicated plan of attack to minimize the risk of the cells causing additional damage when ignited.

Owing to the materials used in the vehicles, EV fires are a different animal. “Electric vehicle fires can exceed 5,000 F. Applying water or foam may cause a violent flare-up as the water molecules separate into explosive hydrogen and oxygen gases,” FEMA writes on its website.

FEMA’s instructions for handling an EV fire (Credit: FEMA)

As electric vehicles on today’s roads begin to become more common, agencies must better plan for these scenarios. Although EV fires are not generally a common occurrence, that does not mean that departments do not brace themselves for the worst-case scenarios they are often spontaneously faced with.

In the event of an EV fire, proper preparation and response could save lives. It is time for fire departments to learn the proper precautions and handling of these unusual cases, as electric vehicles market share grows in the United States.

The NTSB’s full report is available here.

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