A recent fire involving a Ford F-150 Lightning has reignited concerns about electric vehicle (EV) fires. Video footage, obtained through Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act from the Dearborn Police Department, shows smoke billowing from three tightly packed electric pickups, moments before flames shoot several feet above the unoccupied vehicles. Experts warn that EV fires can take hours, rather than minutes, to extinguish, posing significant challenges to first responders.
Automakers Face Growing Concerns
As automakers push to increase sales of EVs and meet tightening emissions standards, concerns around EV fires continue to grow. The Biden administration has set a target for half of new vehicles sold in the US by 2030 to be electric. However, there’s been little to no discussion about first responder training for when EVs catch fire, whether due to a malfunction or a crash.
Ford Production Halted
The Feb. 4 fire at Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn prompted the company to halt production of the new pickup for five weeks. The automaker also recalled 18 of the vehicles. Ford identified the root cause as related to battery cell production made by supplier, SK On.
Challenges for First Responders
The challenge of extinguishing an EV fire lies in the difficulty of accessing battery packs built into the underbodies or frames of the vehicles, as well as the chemical reaction that fuels the flames. Experts recommend different techniques for putting out an EV fire, including submerging the vehicles in water, piercing the battery pack and inundating it with water, disabling a vehicle’s 12-volt circuit, or simply letting the fire burn until it’s out. However, there are no set standards for putting out an EV fire, making training for first responders even more critical.
Michael O’Brian, board member of the International Fire Chiefs Association, stresses the need for investment in first responder training, best practices, and lab time. With new battery plants costing billions of dollars, he argues that little funding is being directed to the training of fire departments. “It’s as simple as what’s the best way to turn up your efforts when exposed to lithium-ion off-gassing when the vehicles catch fire,” he says.
While vehicle fires involving internal combustion engines are far more common than those involving EVs, EV fires can burn hotter and longer and require new techniques to extinguish. As more electrified vehicles are sold, experts expect the incidence of fires involving EVs to increase, and automakers must address the issue to avoid losing momentum with car buyers and climate-conscious lawmakers.
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