As a thought leader in public safety training, The Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) has published a stakeholders’ report and informational website and developed no-cost training for first responders to identify the issues, challenges and current practices in preventing, preparing for, and addressing electric vehicle (EV) and energy storage system (ESS) fires and related emergencies.
Although EVs are less likely to ignite than fossil fuel-powered or hybrid vehicles, the intense heat, high-voltage cables, and hazardous materials make EV and ESS fires uniquely challenging for first responders. Currently no extinguishing agent is fully effective on these fires, and reignition is a threat for hours or even days after the initial event. These issues are compounded by the increasing prevalence of Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries in EVs, micromobility devices and ESSs, a news release said.
In October 2023, TEEX convened a summit of nationally recognized experts with experience in responding to Li-ion battery incidents. These senior stakeholders came from numerous agencies and organizations and shared current practices, identified knowledge gaps and made recommendations to address the evolving issues associated with these incidents. These discussions resulted in a set of current best practices for the first responder community.
“We are pleased to be working with industry partners, national laboratories, federal agencies, and EV manufacturers to conduct testing and develop training and practical solutions for lithium-ion battery fire response issues,” TEEX Agency Director David Coatney said in the release. “This initiative is at the core of TEEX’s public safety mission to ensure that the first responder community can make sound decisions to manage these fires safely and effectively.”
The summit participants identified the following unique hazards presented by Li-ion battery fires:
- Thermal runaway: Thermal runaway can occur due to overcharging, overheating, physical damage (such as a vehicle crash), or manufacturing defects and could result in extremely high temperatures, fire and the venting of toxic gas and metals or explosive shrapnel.
- Electrical shock: EVs rely on high-voltage electrical systems which pose a risk of electrical shock to occupants and first responders in the event of a vehicle crash or other emergency.
- Fire: Li-ion battery fire risks increase due to damage or defects in the battery or during charging or discharging. They are often difficult to extinguish and can reignite multiple times.
- Chemical exposure: Li-ion batteries contain toxic chemicals and heavy metals that may harm first responders, the public and the environment.
- Structural failure: Li-ion batteries can burn at temperatures as high as 3,000 to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit and could cause concrete and metal fatigue, which could lead to significant damage or failure to structures, such as underpasses or parking garages where a fire takes place.
“Because Li-ion battery technology is relatively new, many departments, first responders and policymakers have limited knowledge of and experience with this battery technology and the related incidents that can occur,” said Gordon Lohmeyer, division director of TEEX Fire and Emergency Services, in the release. “We have created a repository of information and training resources located on the TEEX website where first responders can obtain the latest information and learn about our agency’s training on preparing for and responding to an EV/ESS fire. We are also working on destructive battery testing with federal partners and research labs, and the results will quantify the types of contaminants first responders may encounter during EV/ESS emergencies.”
TEEX-sanctioned initial training programs for first responders include:
- Electric Vehicle (EV) Safety for the First Responder – a no-cost 2.5-hour online course released in early February.
- Lithium-Ion Response Awareness – a no-cost, 4-hour in-person course March 13-15, 2024, in San Marcos, sponsored by the Kyle and San Marcos fire departments.
As additional EV/ESS current practices and resources are developed, they will be posted on TEEX’s website.