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Ford F-150 Lightning fireplace footage highlights a rising EV threat

Newly video shows fire involving Ford F-150 Lightning electric pickup

DEARBORN, Mich. — New video footage of a fire involving a Ford F-150 Lightning this 12 months highlights a rising concern round electrical automobiles: unstable fires from the batteries that energy them.

The beforehand unreleased footage, which CNBC obtained by means of Michigan’s Freedom of Data Act from the Dearborn Police Division, reveals smoke billowing from three tightly packed electrical pickups in a Ford Motor holding lot in Dearborn, Michigan.

Moments later, flames shoot a number of ft above the automobiles, which had been unoccupied. It wasn’t clear based mostly on public paperwork and police video how lengthy the fires burned. Specialists say EV fires can take hours, moderately than minutes, to extinguish.

EV fires have develop into a rising concern as automakers push to extend gross sales of electrical automobiles and meet tightening emissions requirements.

The Biden administration has set a goal for half of latest automobiles offered within the U.S. by 2030 to be electrical. Automakers are spending billions of {dollars} to impress their lineups. Nevertheless, there’s been little to no dialogue about first responder coaching for when the automobiles catch fireplace, whether or not as a result of a malfunction or, extra generally, a crash.

The Feb. 4 holding lot fireplace at Ford’s Rouge Electrical Car Heart in Dearborn prompted the corporate to rapidly halt manufacturing of the brand new pickup for 5 weeks. The automaker additionally recalled 18 of the automobiles, which Ford has likened to the Mannequin T by way of importance to the company.

Ford recognized the basis trigger as associated to battery cell manufacturing made by provider, SK On.

Law enforcement officials responding to the blaze described the automobiles as being “engulfed in flames” and might be heard on video worrying that the automobiles might “blow up.” Lithium-ion batteries, generally utilized in EVs, might be unstable and very troublesome to place out as soon as on fireplace.

“We’re not placing this f—er out. Take a look at it,” stated one responding officer through the February F-150 Lightning fireplace.

First responders might be heard on video expressing concern about how a lot water is required to place out EV fires and whether or not a particular foam could be required. Additionally they questioned the viability and security of electrical automobiles.

“They need to put like a complete f—ing lake on it to place them out,” the identical officer stated through the Feb. 4 occasion.

The footage obtained by CNBC totaled about two hours of video, together with overlapping footage, from 17 police bodycams and automobile dashcams between 3:36 p.m. and 4:22 p.m. ET, in accordance with time stamps on the bodycam movies.

Images obtained from Dearborn Police by means of a separate Michigan FOIA request present the aftermath of the blaze. One of many three automobiles is barely recognizable, with its physique almost melted right down to the bottom. The 2 neighboring automobiles had been additionally closely broken.

“There was just one [vehicle on fire] once we obtained right here. They’re catching. It is these frickin’ batteries,” that very same responding officer stated, in accordance with the footage.

The F-150 Lightning fireplace occurred whereas the automobile was charging in a holding lot throughout a pre-delivery high quality test and was brought on by an inside quick circuit as a result of a producing subject when cells within the battery had been at a excessive state of cost, in accordance with public paperwork related to the recall. Ford stated engineers decided there was no proof of a charging fault.

“Along with SK On, we confirmed the basis causes and swiftly applied high quality actions,” Ford stated in an announcement to CNBC. “The Rouge Electrical Car Heart has been again up and operating since March 13 and is again to full manufacturing and transport automobiles to prospects.”

The hearth added to ongoing high quality and execution issues which have plagued the automaker because it makes an attempt to restructure its enterprise and place itself higher for EVs.

Rising concern

Car fires should not new. They frequently happen in conventional automobiles with inside combustion engines. However the fires that may consequence from EVs such because the F-150 Lightning and their batteries are more and more worrying for first responders throughout the nation, partly as a result of they contain a sequence response between battery cells referred to as thermal runaway.

Such fires are also a rising downside for automakers who might lose the momentum they’ve constructed with automobile consumers and climate-conscious lawmakers if the chance continues shaking public confidence within the know-how.

Fires involving EV batteries can burn hotter and longer and require new methods to extinguish.

“This can be a huge subject globally,” stated Michael O’Brian, board member of the Worldwide Fireplace Chiefs Affiliation, who leads fireplace and life security. “We have to higher perceive what the very best processes are by means of testing and analysis with actual firefighters.”

Why electric vehicle fires are so challenging

EVs are powered by a sequence of battery cells inside an hermetic pack that is designed to forestall any substances from passing in or out. The packs are also primarily constructed into the underbodies or frames of the automobiles, a spot that may be troublesome for first responders to succeed in. And even when they might simply entry the cells, the “fireplace” is definitely a chemical response and far harder to deal with than a standard gasoline fireplace.

“You are now coping with a automobile that does not work like the rest you have been taught,” stated David Dalrymple, a volunteer firefighter in New Jersey who owns a primary response coaching and consulting enterprise known as RoadWay Rescue. “It is a completely totally different animal. … The first aim is to chill it down to remove that chemical response.”

Dalrymple, who additionally serves on a Society of Automotive Engineers committee specializing in EV fireplace points and requirements, famous another international locations enable first responders to search for what hazardous supplies are in a automobile based mostly on the license plate. An identical system could possibly be helpful within the U.S., he stated.

A 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV caught fireplace at a house in Cherokee County, Georgia on Sept. 13, 2021, in accordance with the native fireplace division.

Cherokee County Fireplace Division

Specialists are nonetheless attempting to find out EV fireplace incident charges; the information is troublesome to gather from disparate fireplace departments. Car fires involving inside combustion engines are way more frequent than EVs, nonetheless specialists anticipate that to repeatedly even out as extra electrified automobiles are offered. 

Issues with plug-in automobiles that use such batteries have led automakers together with Ford, General Motors, Hyundai and Porsche to recall fashions. GM from 2020 to 2021 needed to recall all of its electrical Chevrolet Bolt fashions constructed as much as that time as a result of a battery issue that resulted in a number of reported fires.

Consequently, GM expanded an ongoing nationwide program to coach public security, fireplace and emergency service suppliers on easy methods to most successfully deal with emergency conditions involving electric vehicles.

The state of Virginia has taken it upon itself to coach firefighters. A invoice that requires them to finish a coaching program in regards to the threat of electrical automobile fires passed unanimously this year.

Trial by fireplace

Firefighters more and more are going through the challenges created by EV fires. That is made extra sophisticated by what some specialists say is a scarcity of laws and requirements, which permits automakers to do as they like concerning the design and rollout of EVs.

For greater than a century, first responders have fairly simply extinguished automobile engine fires by popping the hood and drowning the world in water. That playbook does not work with EVs.

Every automobile is exclusive and should require totally different methods to extinguish, which implies there aren’t any set requirements for placing out an EV fireplace.

Present greatest practices for an EV fireplace, relying on who you communicate with, embody submerging the automobiles in water, piercing the battery pack and inundating it with water, disabling a automobile’s 12-volt circuit, or just letting the fireplace burn till it is out, emitting chemical toxins into the air.

O’Brian, a hearth chief in suburban Brighton outdoors of Detroit, stated the larger the battery, the upper the priority for first responders. He additionally famous that new battery plants to provide the cells for the automobiles typically value billions of {dollars}, highlighting what he noticed as comparatively little funding being directed to the coaching of fireside departments.

“I proceed to maintain advocating that each state and federal authorities wants to really make investments inside the fireplace service on this matter for coaching, greatest practices, lab time,” O’Brian stated. “It is so simple as what’s one of the best ways to show up your efforts when uncovered to lithium-ion off-gassing” when the automobiles catch fireplace.

O’Brian stated as soon as the thermal runaway begins there’s actually no placing the fireplace out except you cease the chain response of lithium-ion cells from overheating.

It is unclear what number of, if any, folks have died from an electrical automobile spontaneously catching fireplace. There have been stories of deadly fires following crashes, however many occasions EVs have caught fireplace when charging and unoccupied.

There’s additionally the chance of reignition: Lithium-ion battery fires can re-engage weeks later with little to no warning. The Sacramento Metropolitan Fireplace District responded to such an incident final 12 months involving a Tesla that had been in an accident three weeks prior.

William Lerner, an unbiased security tech inventor and delegate for the Worldwide Group for Standardization, stated greatest practices would name for a three-week monitoring interval after a hearth, with explicit consideration through the first 24 hours.

Lerner, who works carefully with first responders and their trainers, expressed concern that first responders might not have the suitable private safety and security gear to deal with the fires. He stated the gear used for a standard automobile fireplace might not suffice.

“The entire manner of coping with that is utterly totally different,” he stated. “The one similarities are they’ve 4 wheels, and so they appear to be automobiles. It is a utterly totally different product, and that is the issue.”

Ford, in its Emergency Response Guide for the 2022 Lightning, broadly particulars some points in regards to the potential for reignition within the occasion of a hearth and suggests storing the automobile outdoors or at the very least 50 ft away from different objects. It doesn’t provide an answer for placing out a battery fireplace aside from “LARGE quantities of water” or utilizing a “Class ABC powder-type extinguisher to include and smother the flames.”

Ford stated the corporate “took half in an information-sharing session on easy methods to deal with battery fires in summer time 2022 with members of the Dearborn fireplace division,” which responded to the blaze in February.

“We proceed to have a look at alternatives to assist educate on this matter,” the automaker stated.

Dearborn Police Chief Joseph Murray declined to remark in regards to the Feb. 4 F-150 Lightning fireplace or any coaching his division has achieved for EVs.

Specialists say such coaching for first responders is a begin, nevertheless it must be always up to date and rolled out. There are additionally considerations in regards to the manpower and skill of fireside departments to deal with EV fires, in accordance with a number of officers. To not point out the dire circumstances they could be coping with involving automobile occupants, that are their first precedence.

“When you might have an EV fireplace, you do not have the time to cease and look by means of an emergency response information or to name, , GM, or methodically determine is it a 2012 Tesla or 2022,” Lerner stated. “You’ve got obtained human beings in there that may die. So, it’s possible you’ll not have one second to waste with a view to get these human beings out.”

— CNBC’s Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.

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