Firefighters have to use specific methods when dealing with burning EVs.
A fatal crash by a Tesla Model S in Indianapolis, Indiana, is illustrating the potential danger of accidents in electric vehicles. According to WISH News, the sedan caught fire after hitting a tree and then ramming into a parking garage. In part because of the difficulty in putting out its burning lithium-ion battery, firefighters took 20 minutes to extract the car's passenger. He eventually succumbed to his wounds at the hospital. Rescuers pronounced the female driver dead at the scene.
The authorities don’t yet know the cause of this crash. Witnesses claim the Model S was speeding around 1:00 AM local time when the driver lost control. One person reported hearing several explosions after the impact. The wreck created a massive field of debris that stretched over 100 yards (91 meters) down the road. The following morning there were still pieces of the battery pack along the side of the road.
While any vehicle can catch fire, EVs bring specific challenges to first responders. For example, the lithium-ion batteries in the Model S and many other electric vehicles burn incredibly hot and require a substantial amount of water to put them out. In addition, the mass of sensors, airbags, and high-voltage lines makes rescue attempts even more difficulty. Firefighters now have to know where it’s safe to use the Jaws of Life rather than just cutting away.
Police have started investigating whether or not the Autopilot system was engaged at the time of the accident, according to WISH News. Tesla has been cooperating with the investigation and said it was unlikely that the semi-autonomous was operating during the crash. The EV maker’s recent 8.0 update included several safety provisions, including forcing drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel when using Autopilot.
In a somewhat similar incident, a man in The Netherlands died in September when his Model S had a high-speed collision with a tree, and the vehicle then caught fire. While the driver reportedly died by the time rescuers arrived, firefighters still had problems at the scene. Because the sedan was so badly damaged, including losing the front end, they were unsure how to touch the EV without being electrocuted. The body remained in the cabin for hours before crews safely recovered it.