“[Fire chief Palmer] Buck said the advent and rising popularity of electrical cars presents new, unique challenges to firefighters who respond to crashes involving the vehicles, including high-powered batteries not normally seen outside of factory or industrial settings as well as a maze of electrical wiring that can still be live and shock first responders.”
It crashed and burned, and it took more than 23,000 gallons of water to finally extinguish the lithium-ion battery.
So do you still want to buy a Tesla for a status upgrade?
Maybe your loved ones will say: don’t spend the extra money and the time searching for recharging stations when it is not safe. Accidents do happen, but can Tesla be trusted with its promises for driverless technology?
The lesson of the story is that government intervention to force inferior technology onto the market has not only anticipated but also unanticipated consequences. The world would have been a better place without government subsidies to enable battery electric vehicles to become commercialized.
The Houston Chronicle piece by Jeff Forward, “Woodlands fire chief says Tesla fire example of new technology causing issues” (April 19, 2021), tells the story.
A weekend car crash in The Woodlands involving a Tesla electric vehicle that exploded in flames and left two men dead has raised concerns at The Woodlands Fire Department about electrical vehicles and the complexities of trying to both extricate occupants and extinguishing the fire from the high-powered batteries.
Palmer Buck, fire chief for The Woodlands Township Fire Department, said the Tesla fire was an example of how “we need to keep up with technology” in regard to both rescuing people possibly trapped in the new electric vehicles or merely putting out possible fires from the vehicle’s intensive battery package.
Buck also said contrary to some reports in the media, the Tesla involved in the April 17 fire did not burn out of control for four hours.
He also said no one from the township’s fire department called Tesla asking for help with the blaze, noting that he is not aware of the company having such a service.
“With respect to the fire fight, unfortunately, those rumors grew out way of control. It did not take us four hours to put out the blaze. Our guys got there and put down the fire within two to three minutes, enough to see the vehicle had occupants,” Buck said of inaccurate claims the vehicle burned for hours. “After that, it was simply cooling the car as the batteries continued to have a chain reaction due to damage.”
Buck said what is termed in the firefighting profession as “final extinguishment” of the vehicle — a 2019 Tesla — took several hours, but that classification does not mean the vehicle was out-of-control or had live flames. The term is mostly used in relation to structure or wild land forest fires where hot ash that seems extinguished or is buried can later reignite other material and begin burning again.
“We could not tear it apart or move it around to get ‘final extinguishment’ because the fact that we had two bodies in there and it was then an investigation-slash-crime scene,” Buck explained. “We had to keep it cool, were on scene for four hours, but we were simply pouring a little bit of water on it. It was not because flames were coming out. It was a reaction in the battery pan. It was not an active fire.”
The local fire chief continued:
“(It) was heavily involved in flames. … every once in a while, the (battery) reaction would flame and it was mainly keeping water pouring on the battery.”
Buck said the advent and rising popularity of electrical cars presents new, unique challenges to firefighters who respond to crashes involving the vehicles, including high-powered batteries not normally seen outside of factory or industrial settings as well as a maze of electrical wiring that can still be live and shock first responders.
He also said the Tesla has a strengthened steel frame that traditional ‘jaws of life’ equipment cannot cut through as it can with older cars with different materials.
“In the Tesla, the (batteries) kind of make up the floorboard of the car. They make like a rectangle, I don’t know if it is different batteries or one giant battery,” Buck added. “The car would occasionally have flames come back up. We just left a small stream of water on (the battery) to keep it cool. That is what is recommended by Tesla.”
The complex framework and electrical wiring of modern vehicles, especially a high-end model like a Tesla, present unique challenges for first responders to vehicle crashes, he added. Because there is no standardized training for the new technology, Buck said fire officials are left to do their own homework.
“It is our job to keep up with the newest technologies, whether it is electric cars or other newer vehicles. The have strengthened unibodies, some of the framework they use is (high-tech) steel.
The old ‘jaws of life’ will not cut through that. The ‘jaws of life’ would not have even made a dent in this car,” Buck said of the Tesla. “We have had to upgrade tools and upgrade our training and processes. It is really continuing education keeping up with the new technology.
There are high voltage loops that run through the car, which you don’t want to come in contact with. In the Tesla emergency manual, the company has made special notes for people of where to cut the lines to cut power. For us, it is a reminder why we have to keep on top of new technology and how these cars potentially fail.”