GM Is Training First Responders on Electric Car Crashes

A firefighter from the Illinois Fire Service demonstrated how to access an electric vehicle for rescue attempts.

A firefighter from the Illinois Fire Service demonstrated how to access an electric vehicle for rescue attempts.
Image: General Motors

More firefighters and EMTs will soon be able to pry you out of your burning Prius and maybe even save the car. General Motors announced Thursday it was expanding its training program on rescues involving electric vehicle crashes.

GM said it would increase efforts to educate public emergency responders on how to approach accidents involving electric vehicles. The company says that this new push to educate is a continuation of its previous programs that began over a decade ago with the release of the Chevrolet Volt — a plug-in hybrid that first hit the market in 2010. The training will provide emergency responders with more information about battery technology while also debunking misconceptions about electric vehicles — GM cites, for example, the myth that water poses a danger to an electric vehicle’s battery and could make a battery fire worse. In actuality, water is an excellent method for extinguishing fires in lithium-ion batteries.

Emergency responders navigating the increasing popularity of electric vehicles is a growing need, even though fires in electric vehicles could be less common than in gas-powered cars. Autoinsurance EZ crunched the numbers and found that fires in electric vehicles caused by crashes are rare, with about 25 fires per 100,000 cars sold. For reference, they calculated 1,529.9 fires involving cars with internal combustion engines per 100,000 sold. Hybrids between the two types are extremely flammable, though: 3,474.5 fires per 100,000 sold.

While electric vehicles catching fire may be rare, these fires are difficult to extinguish. In April 2021, a fire in a Tesla caused by a crash apparently took more than 4 hours and 300,000 gallons of water to extinguish as the car’s lithium ion-battery continued to reignite. The ignition of a battery in an electric vehicle leading to a fire can even occur hours or days after the crash, as happened in Sacramento when a Tesla caught fire in a junkyard 3 weeks after it crashed.

“Our primary goal is to provide key information directly to first and second responders,” said Joe McLaine in the company’s press release. McLaine is a GM global product safety and systems engineer, and leader of the training effort. “This training offers unique material and hands-on experiences that can help increase responders’ awareness of procedures to help maintain safety while interacting with EVs during the performance of their duties.”

General Motors says that the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has educated about 300,000 firefighters, while there remain another 800,000 that need training on the issue. The new training will apparently include a four-hour block of instruction across different dealerships, firehouses, and training academies. General Motors wasn’t clear on whether or not this training will apply exclusively to their own electric vehicles, or if it will cover other brands like Tesla. The company did not immediately respond to our request for comment on that.

“The fire service has had more than 100 years to gain the knowledge needed to respond to internal combustion engine fires, and it is critical that they are now educated on EV safety,” said NFPA senior manager of education and development Andrew Klock in the release .

Sales of electric vehicles are on the rise, so crashes involving them are, too. The US Department of Energy reported that EV sales (hybrids and all-electric) nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021, and growth continued worldwide into Q1 of 2022 according to the International Energy Association.

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