First Responders Aren't Prepared For Lithium Fires When Teslas Crash And Uncontrollably Burn

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by Tyler Durden
Sunday, Oct 03, 2021 - 07:00 PM

With 40% of new cars predicted to be electric by 2030, Baltimore County's volunteer firefighter's association hopes Tesla can figure out how to stop making portable fireballs.

Investment bank UBS predicts by 2025, 20% of all new cars sold globally will be electric. Then by 2030, new sales will jump to 40%, and by 2040, every new car sold globally will be electric. The electric car adoption curve appears parabolic, and emergency responders need improved methods to safely and quickly extinguish electric vehicle fires as they're likely to become more frequent. 

Take, for example, a Tesla crash in Towson, Maryland, on Thursday evening. The vehicle immediately caught fire after it smashed into a median. The driver was unharmed, but the fire raged out of control after multiple fire stations didn't have the proper resources to extinguish the flames. 

"The fire escalated to fully involved within about five minutes, officials said. Firefighters initially used portable extinguishers, but a foam unit from the fire department's hazmat unit was deployed, along with copious amounts of water, to cool the fire as it intensified due to damaged battery-powered cells that contain lithium, which ignites when exposed to oxygen," local news WBAL said. 

Traditional fire extinguishers, such as foam and water, are ineffective at immediately extinguishing lithium-metal fires. A class-D dry powder extinguisher is certified for use in lithium fires, though there was no mention if firefighters that night had that or a lithium fire blanket to isolate the fire. Instead, a large-capacity water tanker, hazmat unit, and a foam unit were called in and eventually extinguished the blaze two hours later. 

Commenting on the fire, one Twitter user said: "What is going to happen if the majority of cars are electric. Every accident/car fire can't require this level of Emergency Service assets." 

Sounding frustrated, the Baltimore County Volunteer Firefighters Association responded to the user and said: "Let's hope @elonmusk can work with the fire service and together we can develop a better response." 

Earlier this summer, 20 tons of water were used to extinguish a Tesla fire in Taiwan. For some context, it only takes 3 tons of water to put out a gasoline car fire. A Texas fire chief told The Independent that a Tesla fire needed 40 times more water to control the blaze in a separate incident.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has encouraged electric car companies to educate and help emergency responders on techniques and new tools to put out lithium-ion battery fires. But in the Baltimore fire, the three firehouses appeared not to be well versed in controlling a lithium fire. 

Meanwhile, where's all that lithium going to come from, and how will environmentally conscious world leaders dispose of it?