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New electric vehicle stickers aim to help first responders

Posted at 10:44 AM, Mar 01, 2024

At the Kenosha Fire Department, fire crews have been training on how to handle electric vehicle fires.

During traditional car fires powered by gasoline, fire crews would put out the fire with water quickly, usually within 2 to 3 minutes.

However, with an electric vehicles, fire crews must take a different approach because electric vehicle fires pose different safety risks compared to gas-powered vehicles.

"We deal with vehicle fires very frequently in Kenosha," said William Swanson
with KFD .

Swanson said putting out EV fires with solely water would take hours, drain resources, and use thousands of gallons of water. That's why identifying quickly whether a vehicle is electric or gas is critical for first responders.

"If that vehicle is not a threat to other building people whatever it may be, we may just let that vehicle burn," said Swanson.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, last year Wisconsin had nearly 146,000 electric and hybrid vehicles on the road in 2023. With EVs growing in popularity, a new law now requires hybrid and electric vehicle owners to identify that their vehicle is electric. The Division of Motor Vehicles will begin sending new EV stickers to current owners. For standard-sized license plates (auto, light truck, etc.), the sticker should be attached to the upper right corner of each plate, just to the right of the bolt holes.

"The new stickers that will be placed on the license plates will help our firefighters ultimately be safer, identify the vehicle that it is an electric vehicle because a lot of them do look very similar to regular vehicles and that ultimately dictates our tactics," said Swanson.

For the past year, Justin Morman has been studying the dangers when it comes to EV fires and the safest ways for firefighters to respond. He said some of the hidden dangers include a phenomenon known as thermal runaway, a chain reaction inside the battery cells that produces more heat and gas.

"It's quite a toxic gas that if we are not ready for it or are exposed to it, it can do some harm," said Morman.

In Slinger, Mark Mock is the president of Fire Suppression Solutions. He said their company is passionate about finding ways to safely combat lithium-ion battery fires.

"we want to save lives, property, pets, we want to make sure the departments are safe, said Mock.

Their company has trained different organizations across the country, from ferries to car dealerships to fire departments, on two tools that could be used for EV fires: a fire blanket that contains the fire and a fire suppression tool, or FST, that cools down the temperature.

"If we keep that temperature down, that's going to stop that thermal runaway," said Mock.

The West Bend Fire Department recently trained on how to use this equipment.

Kenny Asselin, the Captain of Fire Prevention for West Bend, said that since all departments are facing these challenges, the training and education are critical.

"Those fire burn very hot and very fast and they can get away and make a dangerous situation for firefighters in a short time," said Asselin.

And the bigger the battery, the larger the problem, from electric buses to charging stations. These batteries are changing the way first responders combat fires.