NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It took 45,000 gallons of water for Franklin firefighters to put out an electric vehicle fire on Tuesday. While cutting-edge, EV’s continue to fuel more concerns.
“That’s what’s challenging all fire departments right now. What is the best way to do this and how many scenarios are we going to run into, and how can we best be prepared for that?” said Fire Marshal Andy King with the Franklin Fire Department.
Electric vehicles may not require the same maintenance as their gas-powered counterparts, but they do require more emergency manpower when something goes wrong. The latest example – an electric vehicle fire at Nissan headquarters in Franklin on Tuesday required fire crews to spend several more hours and 45 times more water to put it out than a conventional vehicle fire, all due to the battery.
“Electric vehicles typically have a lithium-ion battery pack and it’s a cell that’s protected from all the elements, but if they malfunction or if they’re damaged in a wreck and they were to catch on fire, they can start a self-healing reaction,” said King. So, they basically go into thermal runaway and that thermal runaway means that it’s going to spread within the battery from cell to cell, and it becomes a really hot fire and difficult for us to put out because we can’t get water inside of that battery cell.”
This challenge is prompting a new approach to fire training, which has included four hours of in-service training specifically on the handling of lithium-ion batteries, for Franklin fire personnel.
“We know there’s lots of unanswered questions right now for the specifics of exactly what we’re going to do, but we’re trying to have good practices, one that keeps us safe and protects the public,” said King.
While the issue of EV batteries is growing, it’s not new. In a 2021 report, the National Transportation Safety Board cited the safety risks to emergency responders from lithium-ion battery fires, highlighting a California incident that required 20,000 gallons of water to extinguish and then thousands more when the car reignited while being towed.
The EV fire in Franklin was more easily contained because the needed water was at the ready, but officials said that may not always be the case.
“If that same fire occurred on the interstate, we don’t have a great hydrant network close to all the interstates, and so when you say would you have a three or four hour operation for a car fire on the interstate, that’s not pretty likely,” King said.
Officials said the United States Fire Administration is already asking for more money to research the problem to come up with some more standardized solutions. With more EV charging stations and vehicles expected to be out on the roadways over time in Middle Tennessee, officials said it’s still unclear if and when extra funding will be allotted for more gear and other resources needed to fight these fires.