COLORADO SPRINGS — As more electric cars are seen on Colorado roads, local firefighters are being trained on how to handle electric car fires after an accident, safely and efficiently.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Springs Fire Department held its first-ever training on electric vehicles and how to safely put out an electric vehicle fire. More than 100 firefighters and first responders from El Paso County, Denver, Aurora and other communities along the front also attended.
“Every year, automakers are making more and more of these models (electric vehicles). As first responders and public safety providers, we have a responsibility and obligation to the community to ensure that we are sufficiently prepared to deal with these threats from electric vehicle fires,” said Capt. Ken Anderson. , which oversees the training division at CSFD.
Newer technology means a new set of challenges for fire departments putting out electric car fires. That’s why the training took place, to ensure that first responders know how to react in an emergency with an electric vehicle.
“Because they’re very, very different from your typical gasoline engine cars, and we have to make sure we’re ready for that,” Captain Anderson said. “This course starts with a lot of general information about electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles and how we can identify them as first responders when we introduce ourselves.”
Lt. John Ferg is part of the CSFD Hazardous Materials Team at Fire Station 14 in Colorado Springs. He was among those attending the training and learning from an expert from Underwriter Laboratories and the National Fire Protection Association.
Part of what was discussed was that lithium-ion batteries in electric cars burn at a much higher temperature than gasoline-powered cars. It also takes more water, more time and more resources to extinguish an electric vehicle fire.
“As a hazmat team, we have to figure out how to mitigate and deal with that, because thermal runaway is obviously the biggest issue we have with these devices. So how did we get them out? And then what? do we do with them after we put them out?” said Lt. Ferg. “They can catch fire for up to 24 to 48 hours after we put them out.”
Electric car batteries can also reignite after being towed to a scrap yard or repair shop. Lt. Ferg said they were discussing buying special devices or containers to put the electric vehicle on after it caught fire.
Part of the training was also learning about vehicle extractions, how to cut power.
“I’ve spoken to colleagues who had some (electric vehicles) that were on fire, and/or vehicles that we had to turn off and cut power to. They’re very difficult just because it’s so new,” Lt. Ferg said “The manufacturers are doing a really good job trying to make them firefighter friendly so we can see where we need to cut and where not to cut.”
Although electric car fires are still rare before or after an accident, they can happen at any time and local fire departments are taking a proactive approach by participating in training.
“The manufacturers make everything very, very safe. We just need to be in the best possible position to take care of people if something goes wrong,” Captain Anderson said. “I am delighted that our organization has been so proactive and so aggressive moving forward.”
The CSFD is also working internally to change policies and procedures when responding to an electric vehicle fire. Tuesday’s training was recorded on video, and this training will also be shown to the 465 CSFD firefighters over the coming months.
The CSFD is also working with dispatchers to modify some of the questions they ask when taking a call. This will determine the number and type of resources to be sent to the scene, as EVs and related fires require more resources and the HazMat team to come.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department responds to at least one fire related to lithium-ion batteries each month, which includes electric vehicles, scooters, hover boards, and more. This number is expected to grow as more electric vehicles hit the road.