In November 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a report “Safety Risks to Emergency Responders from Lithium-Ion Battery Fires in Electric Vehicles.” Before releasing this report, the NTSB investigated three electric vehicle crashes resulting in post-crash fires and one non-crash fire involving an electric vehicle, all of which illustrated the risks to emergency responders posed by the vehicles’ high-voltage lithium-ion batteries.
The risks identified by this report include electric shock from exposure to the high-voltage components of damaged lithium-ion batteries and reignition of fire due to thermal runaway (uncontrolled increases in temperature and pressure). This report also identified the inadequacy of vehicle manufacturers’ emergency response guidelines and gaps in safety standards and research relating to high-voltage lithium-ion batteries involved in high-speed, high-severity crashes.
The November 2020 report prompted the NTSB to release the following recommendations in January 2021 to 22 manufacturers of electric vehicles equipped with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries:
- Model your emergency response guides on International Organization for Standardization standard 17840, as included in SAE International recommended practice J2990.
- Incorporate vehicle-specific information in your emergency response guides on:
- Fighting high-voltage lithium-ion battery fires.
- Mitigating thermal runaway and the risk of high-voltage lithium-ion battery reignition.
- Mitigating the risks associated with stranded energy in high-voltage lithium-ion batteries, both during the initial emergency response and before moving a damaged electric vehicle from the scene.
- Safely storing an electric vehicle that has a damaged high-voltage lithium-ion battery.
Eight electric vehicle manufacturers have incorporated the NTSB’s Jan 2021 recommendations. These manufacturers are Honda, Hyundai, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Proterra, Van Hool, Volkswagen and Volvo. Twelve manufacturers: BMW, BYD, Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US), Ford, General Motors, Gillig, Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Subaru, Tesla and Toyota are making progress on the steps identified in the recommendations. Two manufacturers Nova Bus Corporation and Karma Automotive have not yet responded to the NTSB’s recommendations.
The IAFC will continue to monitor manufacturers’ compliance with the NTSB recommendations and directly encourage these manufacturers to take additional steps to educate first responders and improve emergency response guidance. View the NTSB’s November 2020 report and additional information on the NTSB’s recommendations and manufacturers’ compliance.