Firefighters say they are developing new techniques to respond to burning EVs. 

The United Firefighters Union Australia (UFUA) has called on the federal government to address the risks posed by electric vehicles (EVs) and other lithium-ion battery technologies. 

The UFUA has suggested regulation and public education campaigns to raise awareness of the risks of battery fires in EVs and battery energy storage systems (BESSs) used in homes and businesses.

While the union says it welcomes the increased use of EVs and BESSs to reduce harmful emissions, they stress that these technologies pose unique hazards that require attention. 

UFUA National Secretary Greg McConville explains that when the integrity of lithium-ion batteries is compromised, they can start fires and even explode due to “thermal runaway”.

These fires are challenging to extinguish and release toxic gases that can be deadly to firefighters and other first responders.

According to Mr McConville, there is no greater likelihood of an EV fire than a combustion-engine car fire. However, when EV fires occur, the risks are enormous. As EV and BESS usage continues to grow, these issues are increasing exponentially.

Not all firefighters support the UFUA's call for new policies on battery fires, but many understand the potential dangers of responding to an EV collision. 

EVs are a new and emerging hazard for firefighters and they are still developing techniques to respond to these incidents.

To help first responders, electric, hybrid, and hydrogen-powered vehicles built after 2018 must have an identifying label on the front and rear number plates. 

However, firefighters are not guaranteed to see these labels. Therefore, the union says owners should tell responders if their car has a battery as soon as possible after a crash.

Lithium-ion battery fires can release toxins such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen fluoride, and cobalt, which are particularly dangerous for firefighters because they are absorbed through the skin. Several firefighters have already suffered cobalt poisoning after attending an EV fire and were permanently disabled as a result.

To keep the community safe, firefighters suggest governments invest in education campaigns to raise awareness of the risks associated with EVs and BESSs. 

Additional training and resourcing for firefighters are also essential to manage these challenging incidents, the authorities say.  

THey are also calling for building regulations relating to the installation and location of BESSs and charging facilities to be updated to address the risks and hazards of fire. 

Additionally, research should be undertaken on the health impacts of lithium battery fires on firefighters, and new methods and equipment developed to mitigate potential poisoning by lethal toxins.