updated: January 2024

Introduction

As a thought leader in first responder training and response, the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) hosted a summit in October 2023 to discuss challenges and best practices related to electric vehicle (EV)/energy storage systems (ESS) incidents. An experienced group of stakeholders from fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and local governments identified current practices, needs and unresolved issues related to EV/ESS fires. The following describes lessons learned and suggested next steps as EVs, charging stations, and ESS become more prevalent across the United States.

For First Responders

Prior to an Event:

  • Identify the locations of high-risk lithium-ion (Li-ion) hazards, such as ESS, solar farms, warehouses, manufacturing sites, recycling centers, large transport areas, windmill farms, wrecker yards, police impound yards, etc., and whether people typically occupy these locations.
  • Ensure local law enforcement officers, paramedics and firefighters know how to identify, approach, and rescue from an EV/ESS incident. Plan and allocate proper first responder assets for EV/ESS emergencies, including coordinating with neighboring departments.
  • Be familiar with manufacturer guides and the guidance for various makes and models of EVs. Know where manual levers are for electric vehicle electronic door handles.
  • Develop preplan trigger points for cooling time or amount of water usage.
  • Establish departmental Standard Operating Procedures and Standard Operating Guidelines for EV and Li-ion battery response.
  • Establish departmental safety procedures for decontamination or disposal of gear and equipment used in Li-ion incident responses.
  • Incorporate high-risk Li-ion sites into the computer-aided dispatch, such as warehouses, EV storage lots, recycling or manufacturing facilities, ESS and solar or wind energy sites.
  • Develop a course of action for likely response scenarios involving Li-ion batteries.

During an Event:

  • Always wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) with face covering and self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), and establish an appropriate command structure.
  • Upon arrival, assess the vehicle from a 50- to 75-foot distance and determine if an EV or internal combustion engine is involved.
  • Position apparatus and teams up-wind if possible.
  • When dealing with other types of fires, remove Li-ion battery devices from the area to avoid creating additional hazards.
  • Keep key fobs and starting devices at least 25 feet from the vehicle to avoid unexpected movement of the vehicle. This may include cell phones that have remote start applications. Never assume the vehicle is powered off.
  • When possible and safe, chock the wheels to prevent unintended movement.
  • EV/ESS have power management systems that are supposed to shut down after impact or a crash. Do not reenergize these high-voltage systems.
  • If high-voltage damage is suspected, disconnect the low-voltage battery.
  • Use the Vehicle Response Guide to find the battery package and high voltage cables/disconnect location.
  • Find out the Li-ion battery’s charge level and understand that a higher charge means higher risk and more challenges. Vehicle operators may have information about the vehicle’s state of charge on their phones.
  • Common hazardous materials and heavy metals exist in all Li-ion batteries, but there may be additional hazmat unique to the manufacturer.

In Case of Off-Gassing:

  • If a Li-ion device is off-gassing (white smoke low to the ground), contain it and clear the surrounding area of flammables, but do not flood it with water.
  • Use a thermal imaging camera to look for off-gassing and indications of thermal heating.
  • Determine whether a thermal event is occurring. Signs of this include a sweet electrical odor, visible smoke, fire, arcing or buzzing, popping or hissing sounds.
  • If the EV is off-gassing in a safe area and there are no signs of fire, monitor it and let it complete the cycle. Do not apply water.

In Case of Fire:

  • If a fire is present, apply water to the flames to contain the damage and cool the surrounding area. This will require a large, continuous, sustainable water supply from one or more fire hydrants or multiple tenders.
  • If the vehicle is in a safe area, decide if it is best to contain the fire defensively and allow it to burn or attack it offensively.
  • When attacking the vehicle fire, understand that once the contents of the fire are extinguished, sustained suppression on the battery pack may be necessary to cool the batteries.
  • Expect probable secondary ignition. Damaged batteries may have stranded energy inside undamaged battery cells, which can cause multiple reignitions.

After an Event:

  • Inform the towing company of hazards regarding Li-ion battery packs.
  • When moving a vehicle, there is a higher risk of battery thermal runaways, especially if the vehicle is damaged.
  • After an incident, EVs should be stored at least 50 feet away from other vehicles, buildings or flammable materials.
  • A fire engine may need to accompany the tow vehicle to the storage area.
  • Be aware that energy is created when moving a vehicle with its wheels on the ground. This could cause a fire to reignite.
  • Fire and law enforcement departments should engage insurance companies to discuss reimbursement for time, equipment, PPE, recovery, cleanup and decontamination costs.
  • Document Li-ion battery-related incidents in National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) software through plus-one coding. For example:
    • .2291 – battery, lithium-ion – personal mobility
    • .2292 – battery, lithium-ion – small electronics
    • .2293 – battery, lithium-ion – EVs and vehicle charging
    • .2294 – battery, lithium-ion – battery/ESS

Conclusion

The challenges associated with responding to EV/ESS emergencies are constantly changing as EV/ESS technologies continue to evolve and become more prevalent across the United States. TEEX is committed to incorporating emerging EV/ESS emergency response best practices into first responder training and keeping first responder professionals and community stakeholders fully informed. TEEX will continue to assess and analyze emergency response best practices, lessons learned and unresolved issues pertaining to emerging EV/ESS technologies and continue to share this critical information.

Suggested Next Steps for Prevention

Signage and Regulations

  • Ensure signage indicates Li-ion dangers, recharging stations and the occupancy of ESS locations.
  • Ensure that Li-ion battery recycling centers operate with proper permits and signage for the public and first responder community.
  • Develop standards for Li-ion truck transport (pallets, manifest listing, charge levels, damaged batteries and the number of batteries).
  • Identify regulations and code changes that can happen in the short term at the local or regional level. This should eventually lead to a coordinated state plan.
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and local communities should develop and enforce E-stop legislation and regulations at charging stations.
  • Until specific testing and procedures are developed, follow current Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards regarding lockout/tagout of hazardous electricity events.
  • Develop building codes and standards for EV charging and Li-ion storage in public and residential spaces.
  • Establish local building codes for installing and operating charging stations, home energy systems, transportation, storage and disposal of Li-ion battery systems.
  • Require manufacturers to consider input from subject matter experts and first responders in the EV/ESS development and design process.

Education and Training

  • Develop education and training for first responders, dispatchers and local officials about ESS and its risks.
  • Develop a comprehensive, coordinated EV/ESS public awareness campaign and education initiative that includes first responders and elected officials. This campaign should educate the public about safe use, hazards, and preventive actions regarding Li-ion batteries.
  • Develop a holiday campaign warning the public about Li-ion battery hazards in toys, tools and other devices likely to be charged and used inside homes.
  • Continue testing Li-ion gear decontamination procedures. These procedures are currently unknown, but TEEX and several labs, manufacturers, and companies are conducting testing.
  • Develop a web-based clearinghouse for information to consolidate and vet best practices for first responders to plan for and manage EV/ESS incidents.
  • Engage insurance companies regarding reimbursement for recovery, cleanup, and decontamination costs.
TEEX EV/ESS REPORT

Current practices for before, during and after an electric fire or energy storage systems fire.

Download now

EV-ESS Summit Report

Resources

Energy Security Agency (ESA)

European Environment Agency (EEA)

Report 13/2018: Electric Vehicles From Life Cycle and Circular Economy Perspectives

Fire Safety Research Institute (FSRI)

Take Charge of Battery Safety

EV Rescue- Response Guide application

Apple Store Application: EV Rescue-Electric Vehicles (EVR)

International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC)

Lithium-Ion and Energy Storage Systems Resources

National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA)

Emergency Response Guides from 35+ alternative fuel vehicle manufacturers for free download

QR Code linking to Emergency Response Guides.

National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Report on Safety Risks to Emergency Responders from Lithium-Ion Battery Fires in Electric Vehicles

U.S. Fire Administration (USFA)

Battery Fire Safety Tips

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