The March fire of an electric car in the Kartuski poviat (Pomeranian Voivodeship) lasted almost 22 hours. In turn, in September 2021, the firefighting operation lasted over 9 hours. These are the two longest fires of “electricians” that firefighters in our country have so far struggled with. Compared to combustion car fires, the number of electric car fires is negligible. But what makes them last so long? We explain.
At the end of March in Tuchom, in the Kartuzy district, there was a fire of an electric car. The firefighting operation lasted almost 22 hours and it was the longest action to put out an “electrician” fire so far. And it took so long because the batteries of the electric Mercedes EQA needed to be cooled down. The car had to be placed in a special container filled with water.
“The average time of firefighting operations on fires of electric vehicles was about 1.5 hours. The duration of the Tesla fire of December 27, 2022 was 4 hours and 34 minutes. The fire of September 10, 2021 lasted 9 hours and 16 minutes. of March 26, 2023 in the town of Miszewko in the Kartuzy district of the Pomeranian Voivodeship is 21 hours and 39 minutes” – enumerates brig. Karol Kierzkowski, spokesman for the chief commander of the State Fire Service.
One of the last fires of “electrician” is the one from Gdańsk, where the car caught fire at a gas station. The activities of the services also lasted several hours. However, as explained by Brig. Karol Kierzkowski, the State Fire Service records a small number of electric vehicle fires throughout the country.
“There were 4 such fires in 2021, and 10 in 2022. Compared to the same fires of combustion vehicles, which recorded 9,274 in 2021 and 8,333 in 2022, electrical fires account for less than a per mille of such events” – the firefighter says.
Methods of extinguishing electric vehicles
Firefighters admit that they are prepared to extinguish fires of electric vehicles. The greatest difficulty with this type of action is, above all, the significant demand for water necessary to extinguish and cool the burning batteries.
“According to the fire brigade procedure, small fires of electric cars can be put out with the use of powder or foam extinguishers, keeping the safe distance indicated on the extinguisher label. A developed fire of an electric car is put out with the use of water, compressed foam and extinguishing powder using fire brigade cars equipped with a tank extinguishing powder. Fire extinguishing with the use of these extinguishing agents can be carried out even without disconnecting the high-voltage system in the car” – explains brig. Kierzkowski.
He adds that one of the methods of extinguishing such vehicles is also placing them in a container filled with water. However, this method is not always applicable and not in all cases. The State Fire Service currently has three such containers in Warsaw, Kraków and Wrocław.
“Containers are not the only equipment used to extinguish such fires. There are also other ways to extinguish the above-mentioned vehicles, but they are still being tested by the services of other countries (e.g. firefighting sheets in Norway). At the same time, bearing in mind the dynamics of the development of the electric vehicle industry, firefighters participate in numerous trainings and seminars organized in cooperation with car manufacturers and non-governmental organizations.
One of such organizations is the Polish Automotive Industry Association. Its president, Jakub Faryś, admits that cooperation in this area with the fire brigade is excellent. – We have started a series of meetings with individual companies, where firefighters come and show how to deal with this type of threat. This cooperation is really nice,” he says in an interview with tvn24.pl.
At the same time, Faryś explains that such a long extinguishing of an electric car fire is due to the specificity of its construction. – In the case of a combustion car, if there is a fire, it is short, violent and there is an explosion that can cause a lot of damage within a radius of several dozen meters. The specificity of an electric vehicle is that it has a large battery that consists of separate cells. There are many, he explains.
And he emphasizes: – If one of them lights up, there is no possibility to quickly disassemble the battery and get to this cell, therefore the technology of extinguishing an electric vehicle is, unfortunately, such that it is best to immerse the entire vehicle in water for it to burn out. We are a bit of a victim of success, because those first series of cars from 10-15 years ago were less insulated, so it all happened quickly. At the moment it looks much better, but unfortunately the temperature rises and from the first link ignites the next and the next, which is why it takes so long.
What to do in case of an “electrician” fire?
If you suspect your vehicle is on fire, stop at the nearest safe place. Firefighters remind you that it is a bad idea to suddenly brake and stop in the left lane of a motorway or expressway.
– Drive to the right lane, stop and get out of the vehicle. It is worth remembering that on expressways, if possible, get off on the right side and move away. In the event of a small fire within the engine or tire, when we have a fire extinguisher and we feel able and trained, we can try to put out the fire. Perhaps other drivers will also stop safely and bring us their fire extinguishers – explains brig. Jacek Jakóbczyk from KM PSP in Gdańsk.
In the case of electric cars, the battery is a problem. – A battery in the advanced stage of fire can generate a discharge of very toxic gases. It is important that in such a situation we evacuate to a safe distance so as not to be under their influence – advises brig. Jakobczyk.
Support for firefighters
In June 2020, the Main Headquarters of the State Fire Service introduced the “Standard rules of conduct in incidents involving electric passenger cars” for use in the subordinate organizational units of the State Fire Service. They were updated in May 2023.
“This document is a significant support for all firemen and rescuers during rescue and firefighting operations. These rules, before being implemented in fire departments, were preceded by numerous consultations, including with entities from the automotive industry, research institutes and fire protection units” – he admits brig. Karol Kierzkowski.
– It’s good that the media are getting involved in this topic and want to disenchant it a bit, because people often, not knowing about technology, don’t understand why it takes so long to put out an electric car fire. They think it’s something very bad, and it’s really because of technology. I wouldn’t argue that electric cars are on fire. In general, all technical devices have the fact that they are damaged to some extent – concludes Jakub Faryś.
Main photo source: TSO in Chwaszczyno