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Here's What Firefighters Do To Extinguish A Battery Fire On A Tesla Model S

Jalopnik logo Jalopnik 10/19/2017 David Tracy

a group of police officers riding on the back of a truck: Photo: Feuerwehr-Landeck© Provided by Univision Interactive Media, Inc. Photo: Feuerwehr-Landeck Volunteer firefighters in the Tyrol region of Austria recently encountered a Tesla Model S ablaze. Watch what it takes to successfully extinguish the fiery electric vehicle, even when apparently following Tesla’s guidelines.

Both gasoline and electric cars can catch fire when involved in heavy crashes, but dealing with flames from the two types of vehicles requires different approaches. That’s what makes EV fires so interesting, in situations where there are no injuries, of course.

This particular immolation happened in Landeck, Austria when the driver—a 19 year-old woman traveling on the Arlberg Schnellstraße (S16), according to Tiroler Tageszeitungcrashed into a concrete barrier in a construction zone just before the Pianner/Quatratscher Tunnel. She made it out surprisingly all right, but the car, not so much.


The video above shows the volunteer firefighting team, called Feuerwehr-Landeck, tackling the blaze. The organization writes in its press release how the group of five vehicles and 35 people brought the electric vehicle’s fire under control, saying (translated from German):

"The fire fighting - which could only be carried out under severe respiratory protection - was difficult because the vehicle was repeatedly on fire. It was only after cutting the power supply from the high-performance batteries that it was possible to finally fight the fire. Since lithium batteries are used, the manufacturer recommends that the vehicle be parked under “quarantine” for 48 hours, so that no new fire can break out."

Tesla publishes emergency response guides for all of its vehicles to help fire departments properly handle accidents involving the high-voltage cars. In the firefighting section of the Model S guide, the company mentions that—because burning lithium-ion batteries release “toxic vapors” including “sulfuric acid, oxides of carbon, nickel, lithium, copper and cobalt”—responders need to wear self contained breathing apparatuses. The section also mentions that, to extinguish a burning battery, responders have to “use large amounts of water to cool the battery.”

a screenshot of a social media post: Image: Tesla Model S Emergency Response Guide© Provided by Univision Interactive Media, Inc. Image: Tesla Model S Emergency Response Guide

Based on the fire department’s press release mentioning “severe respiratory protection” and the fact that there were five vehicles on hand to help extinguish the fire, it seems like the team was well prepared for this. Plus, if you have a look at the picture below, you’ll see a firefighter using a circular saw to cut part of the Model S just on the back of the rear driver’s side door jamb.

a man riding a motorcycle with a side car: Photo: Feuerwehr-Landeck© Provided by Univision Interactive Media, Inc. Photo: Feuerwehr-Landeck

That location on the Model S is the “First Responder Disconnect Point”—one of two in the vehicle (the first—which is called the cut loop—is in the frunk, which, in this case, was clearly inaccessible due to the crash).

a close up of a map: Image: Tesla Model S Emergency Response Guide© Provided by Univision Interactive Media, Inc. Image: Tesla Model S Emergency Response Guide

The point of the disconnect loop is to disable the high voltage system, and to shut off the airbags. To do this via the rear disconnect point, Tesla suggests that firefighters open the rear door closest to the charge port, and use a 12-inch circular saw to cut six inches through the label, which acts as a visual indicator for where to cut into the pillar.

a close up of a car: Image: Tesla Model S Emergency Response Guide© Provided by Univision Interactive Media, Inc. Image: Tesla Model S Emergency Response Guide

Though we don’t know if the fire department used a thermal imaging camera to “ensure that the high voltage battery is completely cooled,” as Tesla recommends in its guide, it does seem like this volunteer fire department extinguished this EV fire more or less by the book.

As impressive as the firefighters were, it’s also worth mentioning that the driver sustained only slight injuries, and that—if you look at the car after the fire—it appears that the flame remained isolated in the front part of the battery pack, which indicates that Tesla’s method of preventing fire propagation between battery modules appears to be working. So despite the totally ruined car, it appears that many systems were luckily working properly in this whole situation.

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