Fire Departments Grapple With Controlling Electric Vehicle Battery Fires

May 28, 2024
A lack of guidance and standards in how to extinguish EV battery fires is concerning New Jersey firefighters.

With the emergence of electric vehicles, firefighters are grappling with what the best method is to contain battery fires when they break out, reports North Jersey.

This past March, firefighters in Hackensack, New Jersey, had to work for over seven hours to fully extinguish the flames of a battery fire that sparked in a parking garage. It took thousands of gallons of water before the fire was fully tamed, underscoring the intensity of EV fires.

As Hackensack Fire Capt. Peter Rocco explained, an EV battery will continue to generate heat and reignite itself, even after the flames appear to be gone–a process referred to as a thermal runway. Within the battery are thousands of lithium-ion cells that continue to spread heat to other cells, which can cause another fire to break out hours after the initial flames are taken care of.

“You get these reignition issues, where you think the battery fire is out, but it really isn’t,” said Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and a volunteer firefighter in Waldwick, New Jersey. “The fire service has to catch up–we have to figure out how do we deal with this. For the most part, there is no standardized process.”

What can make it especially difficult is the positioning of the battery within the vehicle. They’re typically placed at the bottom of the vehicle, just a few inches from the ground, making them hard to access for firefighters.

Fire departments in New Jersey have tried to take matters into their own hands, seeking out their own training for extinguishing EV fires, and even developing their own equipment for it. Firefighters in Paramus, New Jersey, created an invention that can slide underneath a vehicle to more effectively target the inflamed battery.

There is undoubtedly a gap in standards for handling EV fires, though there is work being done to address this need. New Jersey lawmakers have proposed bills that would require firefighters and first responders to be trained in handling EV fires, though the legislation did not make it past committee meetings.

Other regions have devised their own strategies for handling EV fires. New York has banned the sale and rental of e-bikes, scooters, and batteries that do not meet certain safety standards, and Maryland is developing a commission to study lithium-ion battery safety and determine safety standards. But some in the industry claim that more needs to be done.

“The federal government has really fallen far short of what they needed to have done before this became an issue,” added Corbett. “We’re relying on the private sector to keep things safe. The government has an obligation to be proactive and shut down the import of these cheap batteries.”

About the Author

Ratchet+Wrench Staff Reporters

The Ratchet+Wrench staff reporters have a combined two-plus decades of journalism and mechanical repair experience.

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