By Ryan Darley
The number of electric vehicles (EV) on the road is rising exponentially, and our emergency response must adjust accordingly. Electric vehicles pose several unique issues and challenges for firefighters. They burn hotter, they burn faster, and they can start a fire without warning.
EVs are extremely powerful and often go from 0-to-60 miles per hour in two to three seconds. The torque and power they are capable of enables them to catapult off wheel chocks or severely damage anything or anyone in their path. Once in a thermal runaway condition, these EVs can burn on for hours or even weeks after they were damaged.
Most firefighters are going through classes on responding to EV incidents, but there are so many different vehicles and unique responses are recommended for each. Vehicle manufacturers tell you not to apply water to the battery due to the toxic chemicals it will create. NFPA says apply water to the bottom of the vehicle to “cool” the battery, but the cooling isn’t effective due to the battery enclosure and spacing between the battery and the enclosure. Some will tell you to submerge the vehicle in water to stop the fire, which works but then you have a tank of hazardous material to deal with, plus the vehicle can start on fire weeks after being taken out of the water.
Many fire authorities say the best way to handle these EV fires is to let them burn and make sure they burn out completely so there’s no possibility of reignition on the tow truck or at the salvage yard. Whoever comes up with the solution to put out these EV fires will be a billionaire. We, like everyone, are looking for the solution.
What Darley can offer are a few tools to control and isolate EV fires or disable the vehicle from moving when there’s a crash.
The Darley car fire blanket is a great tool to contain the fire and smoke; it’s the best blanket on the market handling the highest temperatures. While the fire will continue to burn under the blanket, this protects exposures and enables firefighters to allocate resources elsewhere.
The Emergency Plug® is the ONLY solution to disable the power to every electric vehicle and confirm that it is working. The plug does this by plugging into the vehicle’s charging port and simulating that the vehicle is charging. Depending on the vehicle, this will either put the car in neutral or in park, while giving you a light signal to confirm the emergency plug is working. You should still follow your department’s protocols to chock wheels, apply cribbing, take tires, but this plug will disable power to the vehicle. In a combustion (gas/diesel) vehicle, we can put the vehicle in park and remove the keys. With EVs the key is with the person sitting in the seat, or a phone or a watch that works 30 to 40 feet away. The Emergency Plug should be on every first responding vehicle: police, fire, ambulances, security guards, border patrol, repair shops and more.
Electric vehicle immobilization and fire containment should be a priority in every fire department and for all first responders. If you’re ready to act, we’re here to help. Our solutions are online at edarley.com/electric-vehicle-response, and please join the conversation on LinkedIn.
Ryan Darley is international sales manager for W.S. Darley & Company.