​Electric Vehicle Fires: General Knowledge for Firefighters

​Electric Vehicle Fires: General Knowledge for Firefighters

Jun 18th 2024

Electric vehicles can offer drivers benefits like lower operating costs and a smaller carbon footprint. Many drivers associate the idea of electric vehicles with Tesla, but you can also find Mercedes, BMW, Nissan, Toyota, and other popular car manufacturers with fully electric or hybrid models for sale. The benefits of driving an electric vehicle combined with the availability from many popular brands, along with dropping prices, make it easier than ever for American drivers to switch to EVs.

BMW and Hyundai Car Charging Stations for Lithium Ion Battery Electric Cars

With the International Energy Agency estimating that American electric vehicle sales will rise to 2.5 million by 2025 (1), cities across the country are scrambling to catch up. This involves new construction of EV charging stations (2), a massive project headed up by electric car manufacturers. The installation of these new charging stations will likely have a cyclical effect, drawing more drivers to the idea of switching to electric vehicles. Home and business owners can even have chargers built into their own garages, making the switch more attractive than ever.

As the popularity of EV vehicles grows across the country, fire departments have begun sourcing reliable electric car fire firefighting gear and equipment. Because electric vehicles don’t rely on the combustion engines of standard cars (3), an electric car fire requires different equipment and chemicals to deal with than a gasoline-powered car fire does.

Electric Car Fires: Not as Common, But Can Be More Dangerous

So what makes electric vehicle fires different from standard car fires? The difference lies in the lithium-ion battery that powers EVs.

An Electric Vehicle Charges its Li-Ion Battery at an Electric Car Charging Station Outside

Standard vehicle fires can happen due to car accidents, overheating, fuel leaks, and other reasons related to their combustion system. In these cases, gasoline and other flammable liquids and parts can ignite and spread to other parts of the vehicle. Electric vehicles don’t necessarily have these same fire hazards, but that doesn’t mean they never catch fire.

The lithium-ion battery in an electric vehicle requires precise conditions to maintain its integrity. While electric vehicles are built to correctly protect a li-ion battery, accidents, poor maintenance, or overcharging can cause damage to the battery pack. When the cells inside a lithium-ion battery are compromised, it creates a domino effect - one cell malfunctions, then the cells around it malfunction, and surrounding cells follow suit, self-heating as they go. This process is called thermal runaway (4).

Thermal runaway not only makes the cells of the battery likely to catch fire, but the failing cells generate oxygen. That means that when a li-ion battery flames up, the temperature can reach thousands of degrees higher than a gasoline-powered vehicle fire. In addition, the oxygen produced by the battery increases the danger of explosions.

Why Can Some Li-Ion Fires be Hard to Fight?

The high temperatures of li-ion battery fires and potential for explosive situations make a firefighter’s job difficult. In addition to considering how to prepare for these dangers, firefighters also need to consider the appropriate equipment and materials to effectively fight and successfully suppress electric vehicle battery fires.

A contributing factor to the behavior of electric vehicle fires is caused by the cells used in lithium ion batteries. The cells can continuously produce oxygen as they break down and result in reignition. A li-ion battery fire may seem to have been extinguished, then suddenly and violently spring back into action. This reignition factor is a reason why water might not be as effective on electric vehicle fires as on standard car fires.

Silhouette of a Firefighter Fighting a Vehicle Fire Among Large Orange Flames and Smoke

Fight Electric Vehicle Fires with the Right Gear

So how can firefighters deal with lithium-ion battery fires in electric vehicles? It starts by having the right gear on hand.

A fire department fighting an electric vehicle fire might choose to use specially formulated agents to encapsulate the fuel and toxic vapors while reducing cell temperature.

E-Firex Encapsulator Agent Inside Two Fire Extinguisher Sizes

A popular name in lithium-ion battery firefighting is E-FireX. The E-FireX fire extinguisher has advanced encapsulator agent technology designed specifically for lithium battery fires. At Curtis - Tools for Heroes, fire departments can purchase E-FireX encapsulator agent in 1L, 2L, 6L, and 9L EV fire extinguishers, with flat surface mount brackets for the 1L and 2L, and hook wall mount for the 6L and 9L. Departments can keep a more substantial supply on hand with 5 gallons of the E-FireX TRPL-E highly heat and flame-resistant encapsulator formulation.

Brimstone Blanket Kit with 25' x 33' Firefighting Blanket, Pole Set, and Cinch Strap for Sale at Curtis - Tools for Heroes

Electric vehicle fire blankets can also make a difference in the fight against a burning electric car, such as the Brimstone Blanket. Available in 25x33 or 20x25 foot sizes, this blanket suppresses EV fires - simply deploy it, wrap it around a burning electric vehicle, and cinch it shut. Fire departments can purchase the Brimstone Blanket as a kit with a cinch strap and pole set or get the pieces separately as needed.

Action Training Systems #8 - Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Extrication and Rescue

Finally, if a fire department is looking for a good place to start in electric vehicle fire training, they can use #8 - Hybrid & Electric Vehicles from ActionTraining Systems. This DVD covers everything from the basics of electric and hybrid vehicles to demonstrating on-scene approaches.

Curtis - Tools for Heroes also offers two other great sources for learning about extrication rescues involving an electric vehicle - Principles of Vehicle Extrication, 4th Edition and Vehicle Rescue and Extrication: Principles and Practice, Revised 2nd Edition.

Keep Your Department Ready for Electric Vehicle Fires with Curtis - Tools for Heroes

Are you interested in getting your fire department ready for dealing with electric vehicle fires? Shop our selection of EV fire suppression products online, or contact our product specialists to learn more about electric car fire suppression.

Curtis - Tools for Heroes offers other great benefits for fire departments looking for a reliable source for firefighter and first responder apparel, gear, and more.

Signing up for a Curtis+ Agency Account lets you create custom product catalogs, easy and convenient purchasing, and volume discounts.

We also offer professional firefighter PPE care and maintenance, providing you with a trusted place for PPE cleaning, inspections, and repairs.


1. Bloomberg.com

2. APnews.com


4. Clemson News