EV charging station. Credit: Courtesy of the CT DEEP

While the benefits of electric vehicles are many – lower fuel emissions and costs – the rapidly changing technology can mean fire safety officials are always chasing ways to effectively combat EV fires.

On Saturday, more than 25 first responders attended a free training at the Connecticut Fire Academy in Windsor Locks where they learned about electric vehicles, potential hazards and how to respond to a fire. 

The training was made possible thanks to a partnership between Greater New Haven Clean Cities Coalition and Capitol Clean CIties of Connecticut.

Plans are underway to bring the free training to other parts of the state, with a tentative class scheduled for the fall at the Eastern Connecticut Fire School.

According to a 2020 report issued by the state Department of Energy and Environmental  Protection, there were 11,677 electric vehicles registered in the state by December 2019. As of December 31, 2022, there are more than 30,000 vehicles on the road in the state, according to EValuateCT.

Paul Norwood, director of training at the Connecticut Fire Academy, said electric vehicle fires present a unique challenge to firefighters. 

“Electric vehicles have hit the market so quickly and the technology is also changing so quickly, it’s very hard for the fire service to keep up with those changes so we can be prepared for any instance,” Norwood said. 

Batteries in electric vehicles are so well protected that when they go into thermal runaway – when too much heat is generated – firefighters have a hard time getting to the fire. 

“In a normal combustion fire, we almost always have enough water to extinguish that fire,” Norwood said. The amount of water brought to a fire can be between 500 to 1,000 gallons. “It could take more water than we’re normally accustomed to to cool those batteries.” 

Batteries that have not been cooled off enough can reignite, Norwood said. 

The training goes over how to identify an electric vehicle based on its markings as well as an overview of vehicle types, batteries and systems, extrication operations and what to do with the vehicles after the incident. 

In July 2022, a 2021 New Flyer Xcelsior battery-electric 40-foot transit bus, operated by CTtransit, was taken out of service after it began emitting smoke while it was parked inside a maintenance facility in Hamden.

Firefighters responded to the scene, but didn’t see any flames. The bus was moved to the parking lot – away from other vehicles and structures – but firefighters were soon back when the bus again started to emit smoke with fire coming from the rear of the vehicle.  

Because firefighters had trouble getting the fire out, it was allowed to burn out in a controlled environment, which would take several hours. 

According to a preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, smoke and “an orange glow” continued to emanate from the right rear wheel well, which firefighters extinguished. CTtransit took its remaining electric 11 buses out of operation.

Paul Wessel, Coordinator at the Greater New Haven Clean Cities Coalition, said the training is being made available so the state’s firefighters – who are mostly volunteers – can learn from their peers.  

The training is also a way to reassure the public.

“The way we are getting around is changing. We’re trying to rapidly make the leap toward electrified transportation,” Wessel said. “But with that comes figuring things out.”