Just Ask Engineering: What Risks are Associated with Electric Vehicle Fires?

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With the emergence of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roadways, the fire industry is facing new risks. The risks are largely attributed to high voltage batteries which power EVs. High voltage EV batteries come in many variations but are most commonly of the lithium-ion type. The batteries, which are generally constructed of a series of cells, can enter a state called thermal runaway. When this happens, the battery’s cells burn continuously until de-energized.

Firefighters engaging thermal runaway related vehicle fires most commonly use excessively large volumes of water to cool the battery’s cells and suppress the fire. In many cases the battery will re-ignite at a later time due to residual energy stored in the battery’s cells.

Another major concern presented by EVs is the risk of electrocution. Voltage levels in EV batteries commonly range from 200 – 400 volts which can be deadly. Firefighters responding to vehicle fires need to assess voltage related risk prior to engaging the incident. At a minimum, this means knowing where high voltage wires are run; knowing if there is stray voltage being conducted throughout the vehicle; and understanding how to safely extract patients in times of need.

As auto manufacturers continue to leverage new battery technology, the risks associated with EV fires will continue to evolve. Darley is in continual pursuit of solutions which mitigate EV related hazards. Our goal is to provide product solutions which improve the safety and preparedness of global fire and emergency service personnel. If there is anything we can be doing to enhance your ability to address EV fires, please reach out to us.

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