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28 Aug 2020 News & Campaigns

Help for Decisions on Tactical Procedures Created

As the number of registered electric and hybrid vehicles increases, so does the number of firefighting operations in which such vehicles are involved in accidents or fires. Rescue crews still often struggle in such cases due to their lack of experience. “Vehicle fires do not necessarily occur more often in electric or hybrid vehicles as compared to conventionally powered vehicles. However, if the lithium-ion battery of such a vehicle is burning, this can currently present the fire departments with major challenges,” says DEKRA accident researcher Markus Engelhaaf, who is an active member of a volunteer fire department himself. “In order to protect battery cells from exterior influences in the best possible way during normal operation, they are installed in a watertight and sometimes thermally insulated housing. This is then installed in an area that is exposed to as little stress as possible, even in an accident – usually beneath the passenger cell. As a result, the battery is not particularly easy for the fire department to access in the event of a fire.”
Joint tests performed by DEKRA Accident Research in cooperation with a vehicle manufacturer back in 2012 revealed that water is a suitable extinguisher. First, water can be used to cool the battery housing in order to further slow down the combustion process on the inside. Second, it can also be sprayed directly into the battery housing, if possible, to extinguish the fire there.
Specialist manufacturers are gradually introducing new fire extinguishing equipment and extinguishers on the market or making familiar products capable for use on electric vehicles. However, some of these are highly controversial in the world of firefighting. “Fire incidents from the past have shown time and again that fire departments struggle with electric vehicles. We wanted to provide some assistance with this,” says the DEKRA accident researcher.
Joint crash and fire extinguishing tests performed by the Institut für Verkehrsunfallforschung (Institute of traffic accident research) at the University Medical Faculty in Göttingen in cooperation with DEKRA Accident Research in 2018 and 2019 provided the impetus to prepare an interdisciplinary specialist information document. “Our aim was to prepare the facts in an objective and comprehensible manner in an effort to still unfounded fear and create a good basis for decisions on tactical procedures. This approach fell on sympathetic ears with our partners,” explains Engelhaaf.
The information was prepared in cooperation with experts from fire departments, fire safety research, vehicle manufacturer associations, a rescue equipment manufacturer, the Klinik für Anästhesiologie (Anesthesiology clinic) of the University Medical Faculty in Göttingen, the Austrian Bundesfeuerwehrverband (federal firefighting association), an Austrian institute for electrical engineering and industrial safety, as well as the German Statutory Accident Insurance Organization (DGUV). It is available to download for free from the DGUV sites. An English translation will follow shortly.