With electric-car sales taking off, firefighters in South Florida and beyond will get specialized training to extinguish their batteries if they catch fire.
Unlike traditional vehicles, the fires in electric cars can reignite, posing additional challenges. There’s the need for new training that’s rolling out to fire stations statewide, Jimmy Patronis, the state’s chief financial officer, said at a news conference in on Thursday.
The announcement comes months after the in a , in which investigators found the car was going 116 mph before it crashed and caught fire.
The lithium-ion batteries “are fantastic, interesting and exciting new technologies that can make our lives more efficient,” Patronis said, speaking at Boca Raton Fire Station No. 5. “But left unchecked … they can be dangerous and deadly.”
Webinars and new manuals on electric car fires will be available at fire stations across the state, Patronis said.
The flammability of these cars’ batteries burst into public consciousness with a in on May 8. It killed Barrett Riley, 18, of , and Edgar Monserratt Martinez, 18, of Aventura.
The car was speeding along Seabreeze Boulevard and the car crashed into a wall twice, according to authorities.
The car’s lithium-ion, high-voltage battery ignited twice after the initial fire that erupted during the crash. It reignited as the 2014 Tesla Model S sedan was being loaded onto a tow truck and again at a storage yard, according to a National Transportation Board report.
Patronis, standing Thursday with representatives from the National Fire Protection Association, said firefighters need to be aware of the potential of this reignition.
Nationally, sales of electric vehicles increased seven times over between 2011 and 2016, according to U.S. Energy Department statistics. In Florida, 16,000 electric cars are registered, along with 231,015 electric and gas hybrids, according to the State Fire Marshal.
Karl Brauer, executive publisher of the Kelley Blue Book, a vehicle valuation and automotive research company, said a car battery’s flammability varies according to design, he said. But, undoubtedly, electric car fires are worse once they start.
Traditionally fueled cars “don’t involve a large number of volatile chemicals,” Brauer said. “Once the [electric cars’] batteries are pierced and start to mix together with other materials, it is much more difficult to get out and keep out an electrically based fire.”
Riley’s aunt, Pat Riley of Fort Lauderdale, said she’s quite sure that the two boys would have walked away from that incident had they not been in a Tesla.
“It was not a head-on crash,” she said. “It was a skid into the wall and that’s what caused the battery to ignite.”
She said both sets of families are still struggling to cope with this life-changing event.
“It’s still very, very upsetting to the family,” she said.
A report from the on a June electric-car fire in California shows investigators are still trying to fully understand all the issues regarding these car batteries and how first responders should approach them.
In a preliminary September report on a West Hollywood, Calif., crash in June, wrote, “the NTSB will use information from this and other investigations, including vehicle crashes involving postcrash fires in Lake Forest, Calif., Mountain View, Calif., and Fort Lauderdale to address safety issues encountered by first responders and others during crash scene stabilization and vehicle recovery operations involving electric-powered vehicles.”
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