COLORADO SPRINGS — As more and more electric cars are being seen on Colorado roadways, local firefighters are getting trained on how to handle electric car fires after an accident, safely and effectively.
On Tuesday, the Colorado Springs Fire Department hosted its first-ever training on electric vehicles, and how to safely put out an electric vehicle fire. More than 100 firefighters and first responders from El Paso County, Denver, Aurora and other communities along the front range were also there.
“Every year, auto manufacturers are making more and more of these models (electric vehicles). As first responders and public safety providers, we have a responsibility and obligation to the community to make sure that we're adequately prepared to face these threats of electric vehicle fires,” said Captain Ken Anderson, who oversees the training division at CSFD.
Newer technology means a new set of challenges for fire departments putting out electric car fires. That’s why the training was held, to make sure first responders know how to respond during an emergency with an electric vehicle.
“Because they're very, very different than your typical gasoline engine cars, and we need to make sure we're ready for that,” said Captain Anderson. “This course starts out with a lot of background information on electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and how we can identify them as first responders when we show up.”
Lieutenant John Ferg is with CSFD’s hazmat team at Fire Stations 14 in Colorado Springs. He was among those who were at the training learning from an expert from Underwriter Laboratories and the National Fire Protection Association.
Some of what was discussed was that lithium ion batteries in electric cars burn at a much hotter temperature than gasoline engine cars. It also requires more water, more time, and more resources to put the fire out from an electric vehicle.
“As the hazmat team, we're having to figure out how to mitigate those and deal with them because thermal runaway is obviously the main problem that we're having with these devices. And so how we put them out? And then what we do with them after we put them out?,” said Lieutenant Ferg. “They can catch fire up to 24 to 48 hours after we put them out.”
Batteries in electric cars can also reignite after they’re towed away to a junk yard or repair shop. Lieutenant Ferg said they’re discussing buying special devices or containers to put the electric vehicle in after it’s caught fire.
Part of the training was also learning about vehicle extractions, how to how to cut the energy off.
“I have talked to co-workers that have had ones (electric vehicles) that were on fire, and or vehicles that we had to cut open and shut down the power. They are very challenging just because it is so new,” said Lieutenant Ferg. “Manufacturers are doing a really good job, trying to make them firefighter friendly so we can see where we need to cut and where not to cut.”
While electric car fires are still uncommon before or after an accident, they can happen at any time, and local fire departments are taking a proactive approach by being a part of the training.
“The manufacturers are making everything very, very safe. We just need to be in the best possible position to take care of people when there is an issue,” said Captain Anderson. “I'm excited that our organization has been so proactive and so aggressive to get ahead of this.”
CSFD is also working internally to change policies and procedures when responding to an electric vehicle fire. Tuesday’s training was video recorded, and that training will also be showed to all 465 firefighters within CSFD in the next few months.
CSFD is also working with dispatch officers to change some of the questions they ask when taking a call. That will determine how many and what type of resources to send to the scene, because electric vehicles and fires related to them, require more resources and the hazmat team to come.
The Colorado Springs Fire Department responds to at least one fire every month related to lithium-ion batteries, which includes electric vehicles, scooters, hover boards, etc. That number is expected to grow as more electric vehicles hit the road.