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Pasadena Firefighters Learn New Skills Needed for Emergencies Involving Electric Vehicles

Published on Friday, March 17, 2023 | 5:29 am

Firefighters needed approximately 6,000 gallons of water to extinguish the flames from a Tesla Model S that caught fire Jan. 28 on a Northern California freeway, according to the Sacramento Fire Department. Crews inserted lifts under the driver’s side of the vehicle to raise it off the ground, making it easier to spray water directly to the large lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the car’s passenger compartment as the battery cells continued to combust. [Metro Fire of Sacramento]
Almost 19% of new passenger vehicle sales in California are electric, according to the California Energy Commission. The number is anticipated to increase overtime as the state works to achieve the goal of 100% electric passenger vehicle sales by 2035.

With more and more electric vehicles (EVs) on the road, first responders have to learn new skills to keep people safe in an emergency.

Pasadena Fire Department personnel — including Pasadena Fire Chief Chad Augustin, Captain Jeff Grogan, Engineer Sean Katt, Firefighter Pedro Terrones and Firefighter Tyler Akanno— attended General Motors safety-training sessions for first responders at Elysian Park in Los Angeles.

On January 10, Pasadena firefighters were faced with a submerged EV after its driver lurched through a wall and drive into a backyard pool. The occupants were rescued by good Samaitans. [Pasadena Fire Dept.]
Augustin said the Pasadena team received training from engineers, safety specialists and retired fire service personnel.

“They had multiple vehicles, some brand new and others that had been involved in a collision or had previously caught on fire. Actual battery packs and electric motors were also on display with engineers who designed them present to explain how they work,” Augustin recounted.

At the training, the Pasadena fire responders learned how to identify electric and hybrid vehicles on the road, how to mitigate an incident involving a submerged EV and how to safely rescue passengers trapped in an EV after being involved in a serious collision.

Augustin said the new information they received from training will be disseminated to the whole fire department.

“With hybrid electric and fully electric vehicles becoming more and more prevalent on our roads, firefighting and rescue operations involving them are an evolving craft. We are constantly learning and training on the unique challenges they present in order to provide the highest level of services,” said Augustin. “Classes like this one ensure that we have the most accurate and current information from the experts.”

The Pasadena Fire Department has responded to a few incidents involving EVs in recent history. 

On January 10 an EV was submerged in a pool after its driver smashed through a parking lot wall and lurched into a backyard.

Before removing the vehicle from the pool, Augustin said fire personnel had a discussion first to clarify any concerns over electrical safety during the removal.

He said an electric vehicle fire also occurred in front of Station 36 and required lengthy water application to finally extinguish the vehicle fire.

So far, there have been no reported injuries to Pasadena Fire personnel when responding to incidents involving EVs.

Augustin said to date, the department does not have additional equipment that could help in better dealing with EV emergencies but he believes the tools currently in Dept. use are effective in rescuing people.

“We, as firefighters, should expect to encounter ultra-high strength steel as the primary material making up the passenger compartment.” 

“The Pasadena Fire Department has stayed ahead of the curve with the latest-and-greatest in hydraulic vehicle extrication tools to include the Jaws of Life and heavy duty cutters.  Our tools can cut through and move these metals in order to effectively rescue trapped occupants who were involved in a significant traffic collision,” said Augustin.

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