Electric Vehicles in the (Fox News) Spotlight
A Fox News Spotlight on America investigative piece recently zeroed in on the challenges that firefighters face when responding to incidents involving electric vehicles (EVs). The months long Fox News investigation looked at related challenges and featured, in part, footage from a Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute training session, references to a recent National Transportation Safety Bureau NTSB) report on EV safety, and NFPA perspective and resources.
But although we know that EVs and other innovations are great for the environment, we can’t lose sight of the fact that new technologies often present a learning curve for first responders. Hence, the reason for the Fox story which included outreach to more than 30 fire departments in the US to see if first responders were trained on potential hazards and response tactics. Only one-third of the departments contacted responded to confirm that they, in fact, have conducted EV response training.
“Unlike gasoline, which can be drained from a vehicle’s tank, there are no surefire methods of removing energy from a car’s lithium-ion battery when the battery has been damaged in a crash. Because of this, energy remains trapped inside the battery and a process known as thermal runaway can occur, in which the battery essentially continuously overheats and over-pressurizes and is prone to fires, arc-flashing, off-gassing, and sometimes explosions,” NFPA Journal’s Angelo Verzoni wrote in a recent EV story.
NFPA has been developing and promoting EV tools for the fire service and others for more than a decade and as such was an obvious interview choice for the Spotlight story. Andrew Klock, emerging issues lead manager at NFPA, pointed out to the investigative team that firefighters have been responding to automobile fires for more than 100 years and that EV response requires a paradigm shift for first responders. Stressing that EVs are not more dangerous than gas-fueled cars but present unique considerations, Klock said that the ultimate responsibility to skill up on new technologies and risks falls on local fire departments.
Klock explained that departments are already pressed for time when it comes to emerging issues and new technologies. "When they train, they're not putting out fires, they're not on the trucks. So, it's a real challenge to backfill when you're doing in-person training, which is why we feel like online training is a much better way to go," Klock commented. “But it’s really up to the individual fire departments to say this is something that's coming. This is an emerging technology that we need to get a handle on."
Leading fire authorities and federal agencies agree that responders need to be trained on EV safety and have been working to raise awareness and to drive change. Last week, the Congressional Fire Service Institute (CFSI) passed a resolution that supports federal legislation, as well as funding and policies that educate responders and promote the use and enforcement of the most current consensus-based codes and standards that address new technologies such as EVs. The NTSB has also been promoting a report entitled, “Safety Risks to Emergency Responders from Lithium-Ion Battery Fires in Electric Vehicles” based on their findings from crash investigations. The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have recognized the critical need for keeping pace with progress, too, and have awarded NFPA funds to develop responder training, research, and resources so that communities have convenient access to training and tools.
Fire departments can take advantage of all these resources in the interest of responder safety and the well-being of citizens. Learn more about NFPA EV resources at www.nfpa.org/ev.