Risk From EV Fires Prompts Industry Response

By Deborah L. O’Mara | Jan 10, 2023
An electric vehicle plugged in to a charging station
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The move to battery electric vehicles is seen as pivotal in easing climate change and lessening dependency on fossil fuels.




The move to battery electric vehicles is seen as pivotal in easing climate change and lessening dependency on fossil fuels. By 2040, some 58% of all cars will be electric, according to estimates by Bloomberg Finance.

While EV owners are enjoying energy savings, there may be unanticipated dangers and increased fire risk with the battery sources for these vehicles. For first responders, it means extra vigilance, awareness and training to learn the nuances of how these fires react and what it takes to contain them.

Still a relatively new technology, we now know more about EV fires than even a few years ago. While EV fires are less likely to occur as opposed to gas or hybrid models, recent incidents reiterate that additional steps are required for safe fire management by first responders.

EV Fires Are Hotter and Require More Water To Extinguish

According to, lithium-ion battery fires burn hotter and last much longer than gasoline, which usually burns out quickly. Lithium-ion battery fires can take tens of thousands of gallons of water to extinguish.

The most reported types of EV battery fires occur after the vehicle was involved in a collision or car batteries have been damaged; fires may also occur during charging. For firefighters, it may take hours to cool fires with excessive amounts of water to keep the car from sparking up as batteries continue to generate heat. Batteries are enclosed and encased in the floorboards, requiring extra caution to make sure heat is under control so first responders can safely dismantle vehicles.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated EV crashes as early as 2011, evaluating the dangers to emergency responders.

In its 2020 report, “Safety Risks to Emergency Responders from Lithium-Ion Battery Fires in Electric Vehicles,” NTSB wrote: “Fires in electric vehicles powered by high-voltage lithium-ion batteries pose the risk of electric shock to emergency responders from exposure to the high-voltage components of a damaged lithium-ion battery. A further risk is that damaged cells in the battery can experience uncontrolled increases in temperature and pressure (thermal runaway), which can lead to hazards such as battery reignition/fire. The risks of electric shock and battery reignition/fire arise from the ‘stranded’ energy that remains in a damaged battery.”

In August 2021, the Congressional Fire Service Institute passed a resolution proposed by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the National Volunteer Fire Council, International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Code Council expressing the need to educate and equip first responders with information and training to address safety challenges posed by emerging technologies such as EVs.

According to the NFPA, new technologies often present a learning curve for first responders, and EVs represent a paradigm shift in response strategies.

Leading fire authorities and federal agencies agree that first responders need education on EV fire safety and have been working to raise awareness and drive change through action. NFPA offers an NTSB-recommended training program for emergency responders on alternative fuel vehicles. The Alternative Fuel Vehicle Safety Training project is a partnership with major auto manufacturers that sell hybrid and electric vehicles, the Fire Protection Research Foundation and major North American fire service organizations.

About The Author

O’MARA writes about security, life safety and systems integration and is managing director of DLO Communications. She can be reached at [email protected] or 773.414.3573.

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