HAMDEN, Conn. (WTNH) – There is a dangerous new puzzle that firefighters in Connecticut and around the country are facing. Electric vehicle fires.
Right now, there is no hands-on training in Connecticut to learn how to fight these complicated fires. There isn’t even an agreed plan of attack.
Right now, one fire department in our state is literally writing the book on what to do when EVs burn.
Two months ago, firefighters in Stamford were faced with something they’d never dealt with before: a burning electric car.
EV fires are hard to put out because of something called thermal runaway, which is thousands of little lithium-ion batteries that power EVs and burn in a super-heated chain reaction.
“One of those cells catches on fire, it borders multiple other cells that border potentially hundreds of other cells,” said PJ Norwood.
PJ Norwood is the director of training at the Connecticut Fire Academy. He says the problem of EV fires is that they are so new, and the technology is changing so quickly. Firefighters and instructors are still trying to figure out the best ways to fight these fires.
“Trying to put some best practices together and some guidance so everybody has the same information,” Norwood said.
Right now, firefighters use a car fire prop to help them train. They put out the fire just like they would a gas car fire. They don’t have the equivalent of that for electric cars because it would cost too much.
“Electric vehicles are quite expensive and just to get a couple of electric vehicles and to set them on fire to extinguish them is challenging and very cost prohibitive,” Norwood said.
One thing that does work on EV fires is water. The problem is that it takes a lot of water, as much as ten times more water than to put out a regular car fire.
A gas-powered car fire takes somewhere between 750 and 1,000 gallons of water to put out. An EV fire can take 8,000 gallons to extinguish.
In July, an electric CT Transit bus caught on fire in what may be the biggest EV fire in this country so far. Jeffrey Naples is the acting Hamden Fire Chief, and his department is putting together EV firefighter guidelines from what they learned dealing with that big electric bus fire.
Fire departments all over the country have been asking for their advice. Naples says his team made great decisions that day. They pulled the burning bus out of a maintenance building, made sure no one was inside and let it burn.
“If we were to actually put this bus fire out with water, you are looking at over 20,000 gallons of water that we would need to submerge almost the bus in,” Naples said. “Again, that’s one of the reasons that we’re looking at letting these vehicles burn.”
A number of companies are now testing new ways to deal with EV fires. At least one department in our state is trying something called car fire blankets.
The Hamden Fire Department says it will have its complete recommendations from lessons learned from their jumbo-sized EV fire ready to help other departments in just a few weeks.
“If we can help the next fire department that faces this same challenge, we want to make sure they are ready for this,” Naples said.
EV fires are tricky, but they are not common. Federal numbers from 2020 show gas-powered cars are 60 times more likely than EVs to burn. As more electric cars hit the roads, it’s likely there will be new and better EV firefighting techniques.