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Firefighters & ADAC see no increased fire risk in e-cars

A few days ago, a woman died in an accident, and her electric car caught fire.

Julian Staehle / picture alliance via Getty Images

Last Tuesday afternoon, a young woman crashed her electric car on a Brandenburg road. The 19-year-old got off the road, overturned and crashed into a tree – the vehicle caught fire. The fire brigade could no longer save the driver from the car – and immediately complained about the lack of training, as reported by the “Märkische Oderzeitung” (MOZ). “What happens when high-voltage parts are live, how dangerous are the comrades. You have to ask yourself these questions, ”quotes the“ MOZ ”, the head of the Groß Kreutz municipal fire department, Kristian Titsch.

The lithium used in the batteries ensures a particularly hot, rapidly spreading fire. In addition, the drive of the car can not be seen at first glance, which makes it difficult to act depending on the situation, says Titsch. While conventional vehicles could be extinguished with hose and water, this would not be possible due to the potentially live parts of burning electric cars. According to Titsch, burning electric cars would have to be lifted into a water tank by a crane – that would cost valuable time.

Christian Emrich is a professional firefighter in Munich and sees it differently. In a video, the “Coordinator for the recommendation on risk assessment for Li-ion storage media” explains that e-car fires should be handled in exactly the same way as fires in cars with combustion engines – although the amounts of water could differ.

In addition, the automobile club ADAC writes in its message “How safe are electric cars in the event of a fire, accident or breakdown?” That the risk of a fire in e-cars is “comparatively low” because the high-voltage system is normally “immediately switched off in the event of an accident “.

If the protective mechanisms are effective, there is no increased fire risk. However, if these do not grip and the battery is damaged in a serious accident, there is a risk of a so-called thermal runaway.

Thermal Runaway: Extinguishing is only possible with plenty of water

The incident on Tuesday afternoon was such a serious accident and probably led to a thermal runaway, in which the battery is deformed as a result of a serious accident and is therefore impaired. “In the worst case, the cells in the drive battery can ‘run through'”, as the ADAC writes. This leads to a battery fire that can only be extinguished with a lot of water.

The E-Audi burned out completely.

The E-Audi burned out completely.

Julian Staehle / picture alliance via Getty Images

“Ultimately, such extinguishing can only be achieved by cooling for many hours in a closed container with water,” says Frank Kliem, Vice President of the Brandenburg State Fire Brigade Association. “In actual use in Groß Kreutz, it took until yesterday for the vehicle battery in the container to stop responding.”

“A lot of unfortunate circumstances came together here,” said Kliem. “Any other vehicle that would have crashed so far would certainly not have turned out differently for the person concerned,” believes Kiem, who has been active in the volunteer fire department since 1979.

A crash test comparison by the ADAC, in which the automobile club installed an electric VW e-up! with a normal VW up! compared – the result: Both vehicles received the full score of five stars.

Kliem firmly rejects allegations against the car manufacturers. Although the “innovations in the technology sector would increase day by day”, the safety requirements of these technical changes would be guaranteed by the car manufacturers. “The carmakers are behind and provide us with data sheets for the large number of different vehicles.” In an emergency, the fire brigade can “call up” the information that may be on fire in order to be able to extinguish the fire according to the situation.

The batteries of electric cars are also adequately protected against such fires. The Tuesday afternoon accident was an “isolated case”. The Vice President of the Brandenburg State Fire Brigade Association cannot understand the fear that would now be fueled. “It was the very first deployment in such an accident that the fire department in Groß Kreutz had to approach.”

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