As sales of electric vehicles (EVs) increase, there is a growing concern over EV fires, and the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill in February that would mandate all firefighters be trained on how to put out EV battery fires.
According to Kelly Blue Book, 5.8 percent of the new cars Americans bought in 2022 were electric, up from 3.2 percent in 2021, and total EV sales topped 800,000 for the first time.
Virginia Del. Israel O’Quinn sponsored House Bill 2451 to require the executive director of the Virginia Department of Fire Programs to develop a training program for EV fires.
The bill was created because firefighters were concerned about their lack of knowledge on how to extinguish EV fires.
“The point they made to me was that approach and attack on a fire that is an electric vehicle is significantly different than the approach and attack on the fire of another vehicle which might have an internal combustion engine,” O’Quinn said during a January hearing in the House.
The bill passed both chambers unanimously, with only one concern voiced by Del. Bryce Reeves that firefighters should be able to do this training via a virtual platform so as to reduce the burden on the firefighters.
“I heard from some of my fire folks, and they were concerned that this is more time away,” Reeves said.
Spencer Willett, government affairs manager for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, said his organization wants to be prepared for the increase of EVs on the road and plans to make the EV fire training as accessible as possible to all Virginia firefighters.
“There’s limited discussion about the electric vehicle or alternative vehicle fires in that training, and we do see this as a more prevalent issue now with the more electric vehicles on the road,” said Willett.
“The agency’s plan would be to offer an online version for departments and then also offer an in-person version for those that would be willing to want to take that training,” Willett added
The bill must be signed by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin for it to become law. A spokesman for Youngkin told The Epoch Times the legislation is in the bill review process.
Researchers from insurance site AutoinsuranceEZ compiled sales and accident data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and found that in 2021, gas-powered cars caught fire close to 200,000 times, while hybrid cars caught fire about 16,000 times and fully electric vehicles even less at 52 times.
Most EVs carry large lithium-ion battery packs underneath the vehicle, and these batteries can overheat, which leads to a reaction called thermal runaway, causing the fire.
The Hill reported on a case in which firefighters putting out an EV fire had to use 40 times more water than the amount needed to put out a fire in an internal combustion engine vehicle.
In a 2020 safety report, the NTSB said first responder emergency manuals do not prepare firefighters for how to deal with EV battery fires (pdf).
The NTSB determined that about half of all U.S. fire departments were not prepared to handle electric vehicle fires, and one-third did not have any training on hybrid or fully electric vehicle fires.
As required by the Virginia bill, the EV fire training would have to begin no later than July 2024 and must include all firefighters, paid and volunteer, to complete an EV fire training no later than December 2025.
Tom Miller, director of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) in West Virginia, told The Epoch Times there are many organizations in Virginia and throughout the United States that are now implementing EV fire training, including NVFC.
“The NVFC has been actively working on training first responders across the country on how to respond to and deal with incidents involving hybrid and electric vehicles. To date, through our program we have directly trained over 8,000 first responders in 16 states with over a dozen additional training already scheduled for 2023,” Miller told The Epoch Times in a written statement.
In addition to the national trend of rising EV sales, other newly passed bills by the Virginia assembly will push the sales of EVs.
The Virginia assembly recently set a new measure into motion, mandating that 35 percent of all cars sold in the state be electric by the year 2026 and 100 percent electric by 2035.