Bring Extra Water to Put Out That EV Fire

On the morning of November 17, reports of cold, snowy and slick roads were all over the news. I’d heard “take your time” repeatedly. Actually, this isn’t what caught my ear. I’m a kid from Central Pa., so bring on the snow! But when the news reported a Tesla fire on Interstate 80 near my hometown, that’s what captured my attention. 

We talk about so many things regarding electric vehicles (EV), including infrastructure, tax credits, mileage and, supposedly, zero emissions (note my sarcasm; see my writeup on this one here). But this news caught my interest, since Zurich Finance & Insurance Manager Steve Schoener had just wrapped up a talk at the Pennsylvania Automotive Association controllers’ meeting where he discussed EV fire hazards. I hadn’t stopped to think about how flammable EV batteries are and how much water it takes to put out a fire until hearing Steve’s presentation. 

The Tesla in question that November 17 simply caught fire, apparently, when a large piece of debris became stuck under the vehicle near where the batteries are located. The news report went on to say that it took 12,000 gallons of water to put out the fire . Take a moment to think about that. According to the website, the average fire engine holds only 500 gallons of water, which lasts about 15 seconds until empty. And as a comparison, one restoration company stated that it can usually take up to 20,000 gallons to put out an ordinary house fire.  

As part of the report, Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Assistant Chief of Risk Management Brian Kokkila noted, “You see the violent nature of the failure of the lithium-ion battery. This changes the complete environment we operate in when we’re suppressing fires.”

Also interviewed was Praschant Kumta, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, who mentioned that he’d seen this before when a pebble sparked a fire underneath an EV. He pointed out that a Tesla Model S contains around 8,000 batteries, which means there’s also 8,000 liters of organic materials that can catch fire. Professor Kumta is currently working on a safer version of these batteries at the Energy Innovation Center. 

One last interesting factoid: lithium-ion batteries are the same type we use on a regular basis, including in devices like cellphones. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to EVs. Hopefully, you’re evaluating your dealership insurance to protect you and your employees. Do you have enough to cover these fire hazards? 

We have a lot to do and a lot to learn when it comes to this changeover to electric. Our Schneider Downs Auto Advisors would love to talk more about it. Please feel free to reach out to discuss.

You can reach a member of our team directly at [email protected].

About Schneider Downs Automotive Industry Group 

The Schneider Downs Automotive industry group serves dealers of all sizes, from single-point locations to mega-dealerships. Our members cross departments and meet regularly to ensure efficiencies in the services provided to our clients and discuss issues, regulations and trends affecting the automotive industry.  

To learn more, visit our Automotive Industry Group page.  

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