Adapting our response plans through training, research, and experience is critical in the fire service. As sales of electric and hybrid vehicles increase, the fire service must continue to modify our tactics to properly
respond and protect firefighters. Fighting vehicle fires is inherently dangerous. When responding to an
electric or hybrid vehicle fire there are additional challenges responding crews must consider.
Additional response-specific information can be found on most automobile manufacture web pages. NFPA Quick Vehicle Response Guide.
Modify or establish your department policy or standard response guideline to vehicle fires and ensure it includes electrical vehicle fires. Include guidelines for limited interaction and when crews should allow the vehicle to burn.
When working on roadways, protect the work area per department policy. Staff should consider that this may include a vehicle fire or extrication. Staff operating on roadways should anticipate possibly longer time frames to manage/control EV vehicle fires and maintain heightened situational awareness.
NFPA has a full series of documents on various EV safety response (including emergency response guides by manufacturer).
Review response and post incident procedures with law enforcement and towing companies.
Batteries that have been or are suspected of damage or otherwise compromised, but have not caught fire, need to be monitored for thermal runaway.
Train on department policy and perform practical scenarios which support the response plan.
When arriving on scene, the first arriving company should perform a proper size up. This includes the extent of the fire and if it is a compartment fire or includes the electric components of the car. Similar to other vehicle fires, is the engine compartment or the passenger compartment on fire? The best method for managing or controlling a battery fire is with water. Battery fires will initially show from under the vehicle.
- Protect your work area through established department policy and establish tactical priorities (fire, extrication, victim care) and ensure the vehicle is in park and off, if possible.
- Wear full PPE with SCBA with face-piece and establish an appropriate command structure.
- Consideration and tactics may be categorized in offensive or defensive mode. This may be based on exposures and the extent of fire which may include actions to let the vehicle burn. Use thermal imaging camera to help with the size-up.
- Secure a large, continuous and sustainable water supply from one or more fire hydrants or multiple water tenders (3,000-8,000 gallons).
- Where safe, consider chocking the wheels. EVs move silently, so never assume it is powered off. Never assume that an EV will not move.
- Extinguish small fires that do not involve the high voltage battery using typical vehicle firefighting procedures.
- When attacking the vehicle fire, understanding that once the contents of the fire are extinguished, sustained suppression on the battery pack may be necessary. Use a large volume of water such as multiple 1 3/4-inch hand-lines to suppress and cool the fire and the battery. Put water on the burning surfaces.
- Have sufficient fire personnel and apparatus on scene for an extended operation to monitor the battery’s heat or possible secondary ignition. The heat from the fire may have damaged additional cells, which may require additional suppression activities.
- Batteries should always be treated as energized. During overhaul do not make contact with any high voltage components.
Brief the towing company and their personnel on the hazards, including providing 50’ clear space around the vehicle once stored and never inside a building. An engine company may need to escort the vehicle to the recovery location.
Batteries should always be treated as energized and pose an ongoing risk to the investigator. Follow NFPA 921 protocol for vehicle safety during post-response investigation, arson investigation, and vehicle investigation.
Thermal events with the battery system could continue for some time after the initial
incident. Establish response protocol for secondary fires.