News

Electric cars pose new challenges to firefighters

Hybrid and all-electric vehicles are increasingly commonplace in Santa Clara County, with a Tesla car, a Nissan Leaf or a Toyota Prius around every corner. And with the pervasiveness, emergency responders now have to size up a new possibility: what if one of them catches fire?

Last Friday, Mountain View fire crews had to tackle the problem directly, when an electric car battery overheated to temperatures of about 500 degrees and emitted a dangerous plume of smoke. The car, parked in the first block of E. Evelyn Avenue, had been converted for an internal combustion engine to all-electric, said Mountain View Fire Department spokesman Lynn Brown. The overheating likely resulted from thermal runaway, which can happen in a lithium ion battery for a range of reasons, including defects or improper use.

Brown said this is the first time he could remember local firefighters responding to an emergency related to an electric vehicle battery. Firefighters blasted the battery with carbon dioxide extinguishers, which Brown said served a dual purpose of both cooling down the battery as well as reducing oxygen that might fuel a fire in the battery. After emptying "several" extinguishers, fire crews were able to get the battery down to a still-piping hot 250 degrees.

After the battery stopped giving off smoke, Brown said the car was cordoned off in a safe location and the owner stayed overnight with the vehicle in case the battery began overheating again. Mountain View police officers frequently returned to the site that night to ensure that the vehicle was in a stable condition.

During the incident, fire crews were told not to use water to cool down the battery, based on information from the department's materials safety data sheet, and were told to exercise caution to avoid getting shocked, Brown said.

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"The lesson here is really to be careful with batteries," Brown said. "They are a little different than your standard internal combustion engine."

There's been steady interest over the last seven years by first- and second-responders for training to deal with electric vehicles in case of a fire, according to Andrew Klock, senior project manager at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The association offers training programs, mostly online, on how to deal with various car batteries if they catch fire or overheat, and has since trained over 200,000 emergency personnel throughout the country.

Although the carbon dioxide extinguishers worked on the car battery in Mountain View, Klock said the association advises using water to put out vehicle fires, regardless of whether it's an internal combustion, hybrid or all-electric car.

"Water is the standard agent for vehicle fires, we don't recommend anything else," he said.

In one training exercise, the NFPA set seven high-voltage batteries on fire, including lithium ion and nickle-metal-hydride batteries, in mock cars and had fire fighters put them out with water. In all instances, it was totally acceptable and safe. The only caveat to that, Klock said, is that it can take thousands of gallons of water over a long period of time to bring the battery down to a safe temperature, meaning fire crews will need a sustained water supply from either a hydrant or two trucks full of water.

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"If you can't establish a sustained water supply, there's a high likelihood the battery will reignite," Klock said. "You won't be doing any good if you don't have enough water to cool down the battery and extinguish it."

The threat of re-ignition goes well beyond when fire crews leave the scene. Similar to trick birthday candles, a lithium ion battery can catch fire hours, days or even weeks after it has been brought down to a normal temperature.

Alternative fuel vehicles have become ubiquitous over the last decade, with an estimated 3.2 million hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads in 2014, according to the NFPA website. Data on vehicle fires shows that these high-tech vehicles are no more dangerous to emergency responders or the public than a normal internal combustion engine, but training and experience handling electric vehicle fires has lagged behind the surge in popularity.

"There's a car fire in the United States every two minutes, but if a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf catches fire, you're going to see it on tonight's news," Klock said. "This is new technology, not more dangerous technology. We just need to train or first- and second-responders how to deal with these new vehicles."

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Electric cars pose new challenges to firefighters

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 27, 2017, 10:04 am

Hybrid and all-electric vehicles are increasingly commonplace in Santa Clara County, with a Tesla car, a Nissan Leaf or a Toyota Prius around every corner. And with the pervasiveness, emergency responders now have to size up a new possibility: what if one of them catches fire?

Last Friday, Mountain View fire crews had to tackle the problem directly, when an electric car battery overheated to temperatures of about 500 degrees and emitted a dangerous plume of smoke. The car, parked in the first block of E. Evelyn Avenue, had been converted for an internal combustion engine to all-electric, said Mountain View Fire Department spokesman Lynn Brown. The overheating likely resulted from thermal runaway, which can happen in a lithium ion battery for a range of reasons, including defects or improper use.

Brown said this is the first time he could remember local firefighters responding to an emergency related to an electric vehicle battery. Firefighters blasted the battery with carbon dioxide extinguishers, which Brown said served a dual purpose of both cooling down the battery as well as reducing oxygen that might fuel a fire in the battery. After emptying "several" extinguishers, fire crews were able to get the battery down to a still-piping hot 250 degrees.

After the battery stopped giving off smoke, Brown said the car was cordoned off in a safe location and the owner stayed overnight with the vehicle in case the battery began overheating again. Mountain View police officers frequently returned to the site that night to ensure that the vehicle was in a stable condition.

During the incident, fire crews were told not to use water to cool down the battery, based on information from the department's materials safety data sheet, and were told to exercise caution to avoid getting shocked, Brown said.

"The lesson here is really to be careful with batteries," Brown said. "They are a little different than your standard internal combustion engine."

There's been steady interest over the last seven years by first- and second-responders for training to deal with electric vehicles in case of a fire, according to Andrew Klock, senior project manager at the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The association offers training programs, mostly online, on how to deal with various car batteries if they catch fire or overheat, and has since trained over 200,000 emergency personnel throughout the country.

Although the carbon dioxide extinguishers worked on the car battery in Mountain View, Klock said the association advises using water to put out vehicle fires, regardless of whether it's an internal combustion, hybrid or all-electric car.

"Water is the standard agent for vehicle fires, we don't recommend anything else," he said.

In one training exercise, the NFPA set seven high-voltage batteries on fire, including lithium ion and nickle-metal-hydride batteries, in mock cars and had fire fighters put them out with water. In all instances, it was totally acceptable and safe. The only caveat to that, Klock said, is that it can take thousands of gallons of water over a long period of time to bring the battery down to a safe temperature, meaning fire crews will need a sustained water supply from either a hydrant or two trucks full of water.

"If you can't establish a sustained water supply, there's a high likelihood the battery will reignite," Klock said. "You won't be doing any good if you don't have enough water to cool down the battery and extinguish it."

The threat of re-ignition goes well beyond when fire crews leave the scene. Similar to trick birthday candles, a lithium ion battery can catch fire hours, days or even weeks after it has been brought down to a normal temperature.

Alternative fuel vehicles have become ubiquitous over the last decade, with an estimated 3.2 million hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads in 2014, according to the NFPA website. Data on vehicle fires shows that these high-tech vehicles are no more dangerous to emergency responders or the public than a normal internal combustion engine, but training and experience handling electric vehicle fires has lagged behind the surge in popularity.

"There's a car fire in the United States every two minutes, but if a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf catches fire, you're going to see it on tonight's news," Klock said. "This is new technology, not more dangerous technology. We just need to train or first- and second-responders how to deal with these new vehicles."

Comments

bruce dp
Old Mountain View
on Jan 27, 2017 at 6:10 pm
bruce dp, Old Mountain View
on Jan 27, 2017 at 6:10 pm

>The car, parked in the first block of E. Evelyn Avenue, had been converted for an internal combustion engine to all-electric<

This is not a Tesla nor a Leaf. This is an Electric Vehicle (EV) conversion. These are not common place as the writer wrote, but now rare.

The public must not confuse a rare EV conversion with a production EV like the Tesla, Leaf, or the many others.

Production EVs encase their li-ion battery cells in an enclosure.
Hobbyist that convert EVs usually do not bother to do this (added cost and weight).

While it saddens me to know an EV conversion had a fire, the writer was EV-ignorant to tie production EVs (Tesla, Leaf, etc.) with a one-off now rare EV-conversion (just another ignorant biased media writer spreading mis-information to the public).

The 1st block of Evelyn Ave. puts the home-brew/hobbyist EV-conversion near Hwy 85 where there are no homes, just small businesses.

A simple web search
Web Link

shows MTV FD spokesperson told the writer incorrectly. Li-ion battery fires are Class-D. Water is not for use on a li-ion fire. Foam is usually used. While the CO2 extinguishers may have cooled the batteries, it is not the right FD tool to put out a li-ion battery fire.

Because of MTV's spokesperson's EV & li-ion ignorance, I was quite surprised. As a plugin (the term is used for both EVs and plug-in-hybrids) advocate, I check regularly with FD's I meet that are local to MTV. The Menlo Park, Redwood City, and other FD's I have talked to about any EV difficulties, or lack of information, has shown they feel comfortable they have been properly trained, and have access to all the details on each electrified vehicle models, to handle whatever comes their way.

Perhaps it is MTV FD (even with Google's doodle-bug nEVs zipping around MTV neighborhoods) that is behind the curve, and should contact its neighbor FD's for training and experience tips-n-tricks?!?

No, the situation is not as the writer wrote, trying to stir up emotional fears of EVs The public should no fear plugins. Conversion-EVs are rare and different.

The public should be aware to avoid buying, or be around a charging hoverboards which use cheap-China made li-ion batteries that catch fire much more often than the poorly designed Samsung Note7 battery.

Today's production plugins are a wonderful addition to consumer's transportation choices.
.
.
.
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For EVLN EV-newswire posts use:
Web Link
.
.
{brucedp.neocities.org}


the_punnisher
North Whisman
on Jan 28, 2017 at 1:15 am
the_punnisher, North Whisman
on Jan 28, 2017 at 1:15 am

I didn't know thaT MTV needed fire stations! I know that MTN VIEW has them. What any vehicle that has a battery of cells used for power needs is a big red switch that cuts all connection to the pack of cells and is standardized so that emergency personnel can disconnect the battery of cells to isolate it. The internal resistance of the cells is what generates the heat. If cells get shorted, that internal resistance is what generates heat enough to have a meltdown of the pack. Our AGVs all had this disconnect, with the battery main disconnect in sight. Bolder Technologies sells a powerr cell who's internalresistance is measured in MILLIOHMS and our power packs powered the Dodge ESX vehicle and the record setting Killacycle drag bike. You were warned never to wear jewelry when working with our cells.


dc
Sylvan Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 12:27 pm
dc, Sylvan Park
on Jan 28, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Tesla battery car fire..

Web Link


Common sense
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Jan 29, 2017 at 11:03 am
Common sense, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Jan 29, 2017 at 11:03 am

brucedp at neocities dot org might wish to read an article like this MUCH more closely, before carelessly belittling both the Voice's writer and the competence of our respected fire department. That letter calls for apology and retraction.

Contrary to brucedp's assertion above, writer Kevin Forestieri never implied that Electric Vehicle (EV) conversions from internal combustion are common. The article's mention of "increasingly commonplace" hybrid and all-electric vehicles locally referred explicitly to (factory-built) Teslas, Nissan Leafs, and Toyota Priuses, which are, obviously, common here.

The advice "Water is the standard agent for vehicle fires" "regardless of whether it's an internal combustion, hybrid or all-electric car" had nothing to do with the MV Fire Department. It was clearly attributed to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), whose spokesman is also quoted explaining the policy's basis. That organization, not the MV Fire Department, is the logical address for any quibbling. The NFPA (source of the National Electrical Code and of the familiar NFPA-704 "Fire Diamond" material-hazard graphic, and a primary fire-hazards resource for the insurance industry and firefighting organizations nationwide) is generally taken as more authoritative than any writer of an emotional gripe letter in a local newspaper.

Finally, the main safety issue the article rightly pointed out concerned today's electric-vehicle (EV) battery technology, not the particular vehicle type they're used in, and even though MVFD spokesman Brown could recall no other local EV battery emergency. EVs now achieve driving range like a car using a tankful of gas (plus an even larger mass of atmospheric oxygen) by storing comparable energy chemically in batteries. Their energy density, roughly comparable to that stored in gasoline or high explosives, demands corresponding respect. '"The lesson here is really to be careful with batteries," Brown said.'

I have some formal background in these subjects (MIT graduate alum) and I found it an accurate, informed, and well-written article.


parent
Old Mountain View
on Jan 29, 2017 at 12:27 pm
parent, Old Mountain View
on Jan 29, 2017 at 12:27 pm

Which is a bigger safety hazard - a burning electric car battery or a burning gasoline tank? Is one or the other more likely to happen in common car collisions? Do cars need more safety features to reduce fires after collisions? These are serious questions and I would appreciate informed answers.


Ed
Old Mountain View
on Jan 30, 2017 at 1:07 pm
Ed, Old Mountain View
on Jan 30, 2017 at 1:07 pm

@the_punnisher: MTV is the abbreviation used by the county to refer to the department (Web Link and is printed on the front end of many (all?) of its vehicles (Web Link

But I've heard you still have to call 911. Shouting "I want my MTV!" won't work.


@Ed
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2017 at 3:58 pm
@Ed, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2017 at 3:58 pm
Otto Maddox
Monta Loma
on Jan 31, 2017 at 8:21 am
Otto Maddox, Monta Loma
on Jan 31, 2017 at 8:21 am

I'm sure people had the same concerns about cars with tanks full of gas back in the early past of the last century.

I'm not sure which I'd rather deal with in a fire scenario.

But I'm sure we'll figure it out.


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