Driver Knowledge Tests

What do drivers need to know about electric vehicle (EV) fires?

While electric vehicles (EVs) are generally safe, drivers need to be aware of potential fire risks and know how to respond in case of an incident. EVs are around ten times less likely to catch fire than internal combustion engines, so they are much safer, however, if they do catch on fire they are more difficult to put out.

Here’s what drivers should keep in mind:

  1. Emergency Response:
    • In the event of a fire, prioritise the safety of you and your passengers. If possible, move away from the vehicle and call emergency services immediately. EV fires tend to develop at a slower pace than in conventional combustion engines, so drivers should have more warning.
  2. Risk of Thermal Runaway:
    • Lithium-ion batteries in EVs can, although rarely, experience thermal runaway, which can lead to a fire. The signs of potential battery issues are unusual noises, smells, or warnings on the dashboard.
  3. Emergency Procedures:
    • Know the location of the emergency shut-off or disconnect switch in your EV. This switch is designed to cut power to the battery and can be crucial in the case of a fire or other emergencies.
  4. Use of Fire Extinguishers:
    • While it’s not recommended for drivers to actively fight a vehicle fire, having a Class D fire extinguisher in your EV can be useful. Make sure you know how to use it and understand its limitations – a small fire extinguisher is unlikely to contain enough fire-retardent to put out an EV fire, but it might give someone slightly more time to escape. Note that water should not be used on battery fires because water reacts with lithium, and water conducts electricity.
  5. Exiting the Vehicle:
    • If you suspect a fire, park your EV away from buildings, other vehicles, or anything flammable. Lithium-ion fires can generate a lot of heat, so parking away from other objects reduces the chance of the fire spreading. Turn off the vehicle, exit calmly, and move to a safe distance.
  6. Communication with Emergency Services:
    • When emergency services arrive, communicate any relevant information about the vehicle, such as the type of battery, recent charging activities, or any visible signs of damage.
  7. Regular Maintenance:
    • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for maintenance and inspections. Keep an eye out for any unusual behavior, warning lights, or changes in performance, and address them promptly.
  8. Charging Best Practices:
    • Follow recommended charging practices provided by the vehicle manufacturer. Avoid using damaged charging cables or adapters, and don’t charge the vehicle in extreme conditions that could lead to overheating (bearing in mind that Australian summers can be very hot).
  9. Stay Informed:
    • Stay informed about any recalls, software updates, or safety-related information provided by the EV manufacturer. Manufacturers regularly issue updates to address potential safety concerns.
  10. Emergency Response Contacts:
    • Save emergency response contacts, including roadside assistance and customer support for your EV manufacturer, in your phone. This information can be valuable in case of an emergency.
  11. Training and Resources:

Remember, while EV fires are rare, being prepared and informed can help you respond effectively in case of an emergency. Regular maintenance, safe charging practices, and staying aware of your vehicle’s condition are key elements of responsible EV ownership.

What should firefighters know about EV fires?

Firefighters need to be well-prepared and informed about electric vehicle (EV) fires due to the unique challenges posed by lithium-ion batteries. Here’s what they should know:

  1. Battery Types:
    • Different electric vehicles use various battery chemistries and designs. Firefighters need to be aware of the specific characteristics of the batteries they might encounter, as this can affect the firefighting approach.
  2. Risk of Thermal Runaway:
    • Lithium-ion batteries in EVs can experience thermal runaway, where a small internal short circuit can escalate to a larger and potentially uncontrollable reaction. Understanding the potential for thermal runaway is crucial for effective response.
  3. Class D Fire Extinguishers:
    • Firefighters should be familiar with and have access to Class D fire extinguishers designed for metal fires. These extinguishers contain dry powder, such as lithium chloride, which is effective in suppressing lithium-ion battery fires.
  4. Avoid Water:
    • Water should not be used to extinguish EV fires, as it can conduct electricity and may not effectively cool the battery. It’s crucial to emphasize this point to prevent electrical shock hazards.
  5. Cooling Techniques:
    • Firefighters should be trained in specialized cooling techniques to reduce the temperature of the battery and minimize the risk of re-ignition. This may involve using cooling agents or equipment specifically designed for battery fires.
  6. Thermal Imaging Technology:
    • Knowledge of thermal imaging cameras is essential. These tools help identify hotspots, monitor the temperature of the battery, and assess the effectiveness of cooling measures during and after firefighting; the fire can still smoulder without being visible.
  7. Battery Fire Blankets:
    • Awareness of battery fire blankets and their use in smothering and cooling lithium-ion battery fires can be beneficial. These blankets are made of fire-resistant materials and help contain the fire.
  8. Evacuation and Perimeter Control:
    • Firefighters should prioritize the safety of bystanders and establish a safe perimeter around the incident, especially downwind due to fumes, and in proximity to the vehicle due to the extreme heat. Evacuation may be necessary due to the potential hazards associated with EV fires.
  9. Ventilation:
    • Proper ventilation is crucial after extinguishing the fire to disperse any lingering gases or fumes. Firefighters should be aware of the need to ventilate the area effectively.
  10. Specialized Training Programs:
    • Fire departments should provide specialised training programs to equip firefighters with the knowledge and skills needed to respond to electric vehicle fires safely and effectively.

Darren is an expert on driving and transport, and is a member of the Institute of Advanced Motorists

Posted in Advice