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GFFR talks about tackling electric vehicle fires

Posted at 11:05 AM, Jul 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-21 13:05:13-04

GREAT FALLS — Recently, Great Falls Fire Rescue posted pictures (https://www.facebook.com/GreatFallsFireRescue) of training firefighters did on how to handle vehicle fires in parking garages.

Someone commented on the post, asking "What is the training for electrical car fires?"

The fire department responded, saying electric vehicle fires are generally treated the same as any other vehicle fire unless the fire starts in or spreads to the electric vehicle's battery.

In that case, “...these fires take substantial time and thousands of gallons of water to control."

"The thing about lithium ion batteries is they're not thermally stable, meaning if their interior cooling system fails, they'll enter a state of what's called thermal runaway and they will just continue to self-heat and ignite things around them,” said GFFR Deputy Chief of Training Nolan Eggen. "The only real way to mitigate that hazard is to sort of provide cooling for the battery when its own systems fail. We do that by (using) copious amounts of water."

Eggen said electric vehicle fires can sometimes take multiple days to put out.

“We train for car fires all the time,” Eggen pointed out. “Tactically, (fighting an electric vehicle fire is) not a lot different (than fighting a fire in a car with an internal combustion engine.) We can sort of simulate the electric vehicle scenario with the cars we’re provided with out at our training center."

While there is no definitive data on how many electric vehicle fires there have been in the U.S. or how often they happen, vehicle fires in general are rare.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, (https://www.nfpa.org//-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/US-Fire-Problem/osvehiclefirestables.pdf) there were only a little over 117,000 fires in passenger vehicles between 2013 and 2017.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were about 261,000,000 registered vehicles in the U.S. in 2018 excluding semis, motorcycles, and buses. (https://www.bts.gov/content/number-us-aircraft-vehicles-vessels-and-other-conveyances)

That means less than one percent of vehicles catch fire in any year, but even so that doesn't mean firefighters don't need to be prepared for an electric vehicle fire.

"There's a lot of municipalities and cities around the country are seeing these more and more. It'll get here eventually,” Eggen said.


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