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First responders must be better equipped for EV fires, feds say

The NTSB laid out a handful of recommendations it hopes can better prepare first responders when dealing with electric vehicle fires.

EV charging
EV fires are no joke.
Mario Gutiérrez/Getty Images

Batteries do not burn like gasoline. In fact, they're far more stubborn and can create much more dangerous situations for first responders. The National Transportation Safety Board proposed a handful of recommendations on Jan. 13 to better equip fire fighters and police officers responding to electric vehicle fires, and the recommendations come at a crucial time. Many automakers continue to gear up to introduce greater numbers of EVs, and as more US drivers start buying them, there will inevitably be additional crashes or fires involving EVs.

Before the NTSB dove into its recommendations, the agency noted there are two glaring vulnerabilities in EV safety present today. Vehicle manufacturers' emergency response guides are inadequate, according the the NTSB, and there is a severe lack of understanding and research with regard to lithium-ion batteries involved in high-speed crashes. 

To remedy the first issue, the NTSB proposed including the availability of emergency response guides for EVs in a US New Car Assessment Program score for any vehicle. There, regulators can flex a little muscle to force automakers to pay more attention to safety and batteries for first responders. To address a lack of research on the subject, the NTSB called for -- you guessed it -- more research into reducing runaway energy in lithium-ion batteries following a crash and how to reduce hazards for professionals tending to the scene of a crash or fire.

When it comes to emergency response guides, the NTSB suggested each particular EV should include essential information on how to fight the a fire concerning the specific battery onboard, and how to mitigate the risk of high voltage reigniting the fire. The government said in four investigations into EV fires last year, first responders witnessed the fire reignite in three instances. The three batteries that did catch fire again were involved in serious crashes, prompting the NTSB to push for more research into how batteries react after high-speed crashes.

Finally, the NTSB called on emergency response guides to include information on how to mitigate risk associated with remaining energy stored in batteries while removing a vehicle from a crash scene, and how to properly store an EV after the fact. There remain risks of a fire breaking out in a battery even after professionals clean up the scene and carry the EV away.

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