Valley first responders training to save you in EV emergencies

Responders recently got hands-on training on things like high-voltage disconnect and stabilization, venting, flames and unswitched energy.
Published: Jan. 13, 2023 at 11:44 AM MST
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GILBERT, Ariz. (3TV/CBS 5) — If you’re in a crash involving an electric vehicle, it’s likely the response will be different than if you were in a gas-powered vehicle. Now, Valley first responders are getting new training on how to handle emergencies involving EVs.

Joe McLaine, a product safety and systems engineer for General Motors, was on site in Gilbert as first responders from several communities went through GM’s two-day training on things like high voltage disconnect and stabilization, venting, flames, and unswitched energy. For the training, the company used a crash-tested Hummer EV. “What we are showing is that the vehicle’s occupant compartment can be easily accessed with the same techniques, the same procedures that they’re already trained on,” McLaine says.

First responders also learned about dealing with fires in electric vehicles. “Vehicle fires, thermal events that may happen, are only able to be knocked down or dealt with with water. Right now, there is no foam or anything that deals with electrical or lithium ion battery fires,” McLaine explains. “But lithium ion fires, whether it’s a battery pack on a consumer electronic device like a laptop or a cell phone or an EV, have the same properties. They burn hot, and they can burn for a while.”

The U.S. Fire Administration has acknowledged the challenges with EV battery fires, noting they can be very time and resource intensive for responders. “The hazards, I wouldn’t say, are any more dangerous. They’re just different,” Captain Brent Bandura of the Gilbert Fire Department says. “A gallon of gasoline versus a battery — it’s just stored chemical energy. But how they react is going to be different, and how we mitigate the emergency is going to be different. In the past, it was very easy for us. We put water on the fire. Very easy to understand when I first became a firefighter. Now we have to understand the chemistry behind the batteries themselves.”

As more electric vehicles roll out, the training becomes even more critical. “It has allowed us to properly respond to the few incidents we’ve had, but we know that those incidents are going to grow over time,” Bandura says.