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EV fire incident management - case study from Prague

There are very few fire agencies globally who have published standard operating procedures or guidelines for incidents involving electric vehicle high voltage batteries & thermal runaway.

If you’re tasked with developing SOPs for your emergency department, this excellent video & photo series outlines the entire management of a Jaguar I-Pace that appears to have gone into thermal runaway in an underground carpark in Prague, Czech Republic, on 4th May 2023.

What should you look out for?

While watching the video, look for these highlights noted by our team:

  • Crews in full structural PPE & Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) assess the EV initially

  • It is unclear if charging was involved, however there do appear to be charging units in the area

  • Multiple crews are on scene, so able to provide regular crew rotation & rescue backup

  • Vehicle fire is knocked down

  • It appears a ventilation system has automatically triggered, been switched on or space has been ventilated by crews

    • It is unclear from the video if an existing ventilation or sprinkler system is in place in the carpark

  • A cold cut system is used to cut into the high voltage battery pack; this system uses a high pressure abrasive to cut through the pack casing initially, then water to flood the inside of the battery pack at pressures of up to 2750 psi

  • A thermal imaging camera (TIC) is used to monitor the battery & hot spot temperatures, with crews at a distance getting down low to pinpoint the battery pack from beneath the vehicle

  • A second ~38mm / 1.5 inch charged line is used to cool the vehicle from inside, supplied through smashed windows

  • Once cooled, the EV is jacked up at rear using a battery-electric rescue spreader, to enable easier access for cooling water to the battery pack

  • When made safe, the EV is jacked up to place dollies under the wheels for removal

    • With an EV, it may not be possible to put the vehicle into neutral to allow easy movement

    • By avoiding motion of the wheels, regenerative braking is not engaged

    • Regenerative braking can occur when a vehicle is dragged forward & may provide a ‘kick’ of power into the high voltage battery; this could cause a secondary ignition in damaged EVs

  • The EV is guided by crews into a car lift, with all four wheels on dollies

  • Crews in PPE & SCBA enter the lift with the EV

    • We assume this was to avoid movement during lift operations

    • There is an increased risk of vapour cloud explosion in an enclosed space like a lift, however we assume crews will have performed a risk assessment prior to entering

  • Crews guide the EV out onto the street using a winch connected to a tow truck

  • Rear wheels are no longer on dollies, however front wheels are at this point

    • The Jaguar I-Pace is an all-wheel drive, so the lack of dollies (for reasons unknown) may increase the risk of regenerative braking causing a secondary ignition

      • We note crews are clear of the area at this point, so assume they are aware of this risk

  • Regular TIC checks are carried out

  • The EV is loaded into a submersion container that we assume was filled with water following safe transport to a storage yard

What happened in this EV battery fire incident?

While we don't have all the details yet, a news article from reads:

An electric car was on fire in the underground garage in Prague 2, the intervention was complicated by the elevator system for transporting vehicles

Units from the central, Holešovice, Skhanica, Krčská and Chodová stations intervened in Bělehradská Street in Prague 2 at the fire of an electric car in the first underground floor of the garage of the administrative building. The fire started before midnight on Thursday, May 4, 2023.

Firefighters intervened in breathing techniques and used several water jets, including the COBRA device, to break through the battery casing to cool it down. Using hydraulic jacks, firefighters raised the vehicle to better access the battery in the floor.

Chemists from the Prague fire department measured the concentrations of pollutants that escaped from the garage into the air. For that reason, part of Bělehradská street was closed by the Police of the Czech Republic. Chemists also took samples of firefighting water for further examination.

After two hours, the fire was extinguished and the vehicle's battery was cooled down and prepared for its transport from the underground garage. This was complicated by the elevator system for the transportation of cars with regard to the disconnection of the building from electricity.

After connecting the elevator to the backup power source, the vehicle was transported to the road with the help of transport trucks, where it was loaded into a special container for cooling.

After the car was loaded, it was transported in a container under the constant supervision of firefighters and checked by a thermal camera to the parking areas of the Railway Administration, with the assistance of HZS SŽ. The vehicle will be in the water bath for the necessary time.

The cause of the fire was probably a technical fault, the exact cause of the fire is still under investigation by fire investigators. The owner of the vehicle estimated the damage at one million crowns.

Sources for the video & images are unknown, but Martin Kavka, Spokesperson, HZS Prague, is credited at the end of the article.

How do we Identify, Immobilise & Isolate a Jaguar I-Pace?

The Emergency Response Guide for the Jaguar I-Pace can be found on the ANCAP Rescue, EURO Rescue apps & Modietech CRS if your agency uses it.

To Identify the I-Pace look for external badging & any identifying marks on numberplates if you’re a responder in Australia or the UK. Remember to approach from the sides, not front or rear in the path of movement.

To Immobilise it, we place the EV in ‘P’ for Park if possible, use large wheel chocks front of front tyres & rear of rear tyres. There are two low voltage batteries in the I-Pace, a start-up battery & an auxiliary battery, & you can disconnect the start up battery as an additional immobilisation method.

To Isolate the I-Pace HV battery, open the front bonnet & remove the front storage area. Refer to the ERG to find three cut points marked with an orange firefighter tag. The Jaguar ERG outlines cutting in three places for full isolation, however it is unclear if this is just for the 12V battery/s or the high voltage system. We will contact them to confirm.

How many Jaguar I-Pace battery fires have there been?

According to our research, if this incident is verified as thermal runaway in the high voltage battery pack, this would be the ninth Jaguar I-Pace battery fire, globally since 2010.

In the eight other incidents, the cause has been unknown in 5 cases, collision with a tree in one case & an internal fault (origin unknown). The remaining incident occurred when a transporter truck is believed to have caught fire near Nottingham, England, with fire spreading to 7 Jaguar I-Paces, however the final fire investigation report is yet to be released.

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