Firefighter Responding To Accident: “I Would Definitely Prefer An Electric Vehicle” Over ICE


Firefighter Jason Belton

Firefighter Jason Belton

Recently, KOLO TV in Reno, Nevada reached out to some area firefighters to discuss responding to accidents involving electric cars.

Firefighter Jason Belton of the Reno Fire Department told KOLO that there’s always apprehension when approaching a high-voltage electrical system, but noted that he’d definitely prefer responding to an accident involving an electric over a gas car:

“Absolutely, there is always the apprehension just because of the thought for the potential of the high voltage shock.”

“I would definitely prefer an electric vehicle over a gas powered vehicle, because we remove the fire hazard with the gasoline itself.”

Belton added that he hopes to see more electric cars on the road because that would make the job of first responders much safer:

“I feel that would make our job as first responders a lot safer specifically from the fire hazard.” 

Check out the video for more on this first-responder electric car discussion.

Source: Kolo

Categories: Crashed EVs, General

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20 Comments on "Firefighter Responding To Accident: “I Would Definitely Prefer An Electric Vehicle” Over ICE"

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I would think that electrical shock from the high voltage system would be hard to do. The first responder would literally have to grab the negative and the positive battery terminal for it to happen.

Wrong. First responders, at least in the US, are trained to find the mechanical battery disconnect switch on an EV before they ever touch it. You never know what circuit is damaged where on a crashed vehicle. The disconnect switch usually separates the battery into individual cells, reducing overall voltages and currents to safer levels. If they used the jaws of life on a car without knowing where high tension cables are, they can end up dying instantaneously.

Because it’s DC, the first responder would have to make a complete circuit. Also, the high voltage system doesn’t go through the frame (I believe). It’s not like AC electrical faults circuits where the entire frame can be energized and dangerous.

My point, to get an electric shock, it would have to be a freak accident.

Yes, but in theory the frame could wind up touching either the positive or negative from the battery if the impact forced metal through the insulation. Not likely, I agree. But certainly safer if the battery disconnect is pulled first.

At the current and voltage levels available in a typical EV, you don’t stand a chance with either DC or AC. The distinction is only important for lower power sources. Even a regular 12v lead acid battery cranks out enough “wattage” to cook you from the inside. Luckily, at 12v, the voltage often has a hard time overcoming the skin’s resistance. If you step the voltage up, or if there is a break in your skin where your salty, conductive fluids complete the circuit, it is game over. An EV’s voltage levels are much, much higher and your skin no longer provides any protection. When a vehicle has crashed, you cannot predict which parts are live and which parts are not. There are plenty of youtube videos and Darwin awards conferred to those who disregard basic safety and get into trouble.

The distinction is important because with DC you need to complete the circuit. It’s not like AC where you just need to be grounded.

In the year 2000, when hybrids were relatively new on the scene, a firefighting publication created a three part series in a section called University of Extrication. It informed first responders that no new hardware were required to perform rescues on hybrid vehivles. To de-energize the system, turn the ignition off. If it was otherwise inaccessible, disconnect the 12V auxiliary battery. Finally, remove the fuse link from the high voltage traction battery to reduce batteries in series to cell packs of less than 24V. All high voltage cable and connections are identified in safety orange and reside in areas least prone to collision damage. Finally the article advised if the first responders are concerned about shock, they should don lineman’s gloves.

I don’t think the advice is much different today

I have witnessed dozens of burning ice, in various stages of progression, from the just starting to the inevitable metallic remnants of the frame rising from a smoking pile of ash. Not a pretty sight. Even helped put one out once.

Burning Ice…. good name for a band.

I have not seen many first responders not using their gloves though, generally a good idea with glass and bent metal.

Good thing it also insulates.

Its just one fireman’s opinion.

I’ve watched sufficient EV training videos to realize most of them hang their hat on the high voltage system in the car is ungrounded. Unintentional ‘earths’ can happen during collisions.

The other concern is whether the ‘fireman’s cut loop’ actually does disconnect the battery contactor in all cases, after a collision..

And then of course, Fireman used to fighting a slow petro fire have to watch out for battery pack explosions. Too unpredictable at this point. I’ve seen the “S” explosions, with the WHITE FLASH and BANG in the passenger compartment, and I definitely would not want to be anywhere near that.

LOL, and likewise I’ve seen petrol fires that are very sudden and explosive.

Generally, a gasoline vehicle will burn more aggressively and suddenly.

Bill Howland said:

“Its just one fireman’s opinion.”

It’s the expert opinion of someone whose profession is fighting fires and responding to emergency calls.

“And then of course, Fireman used to fighting a slow petro fire have to watch out for battery pack explosions. Too unpredictable at this point.”

Seriously, you think a battery pack fire can happen quicker than a gasoline fire in a car involved in an accident?

Reality check, Bill: How many people have been killed by EV battery pack fires in an accident? Not a single one, right? That’s because a battery pack fire takes at least several minutes to start, giving anyone inside the car plenty of time to exit safely.

Now, now many people are killed every year by being trapped in a burning gasmobile? Let’s see what the National Fire Protection Association says:

“U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 152,300 automobile fires per year in 2006-2010. These fires caused an average of 209 civilian deaths, 764 civilian injuries, and $536 million in direct property damage.”

The guy who drove down a hill in the ‘S’ was so completely cremated that no recognizable human remains were found.

I’ll defer to expert opinion in the firefighting field. My friend is a captain so he’d be a good one to ask

There is no point in discussion of this issue with self styled big shots.

If a person really knows what he is talking about, then that would be different. But there is no point discussing things with you since you have a grating personality and make SO many errors (you read something in Wiki and then you think you know all about it). I’ll talk to my friend that will give a more nuanced answer I’m sure.

Ok, called my friend down in Florida… He said there are no generalizations that can be made yet.

He said he’d really prefer fighting a class A fire, – but both a flaming liquid and electrical fire are hit up with degrees of uncertainty.

For instance if the battery is intact, and not on fire itself, then maybe it isn’t so bad. But Ev’s don’t seem to catch fire unless it is the battery itself – in which case he says there isn’t enough data out there on all EV models to know which is safer to fight and which models have any surprizes.

He said he would obviously fight either type of fire, but which one is safer for him personally? Depends on the circumstance, and otherwise, everyone is still learning.

Again this is just one guy’s opinion, but it is an expert opinion. And the overriding concern in either fire is caution is advised.


He had an OpenEVSE in his car!

Why not just come to the scene with a voltage meter?