AUSTIN, Texas - As more and more people are making the switch to electric cars, naturally crashes involving EVs are increasing as well. One EV manufacturer, General Motors, wants to make sure local first responders are prepared to deal with them.
"It’s really an electrical revolution that is coming, and we want people to be prepared," said Joseph McLaine, Global Product Safety & Systems Engineer with General Motors.
While federal officials found fiery crashes are not any more common in electric vehicles versus gas-powered cars, there have been rare cases of battery fires due to a phenomenon called "thermal runaway."
"We want them to understand that we have taken the approach to informing them on what we know about lithium-ion battery fires and lithium-ion battery systems and electric vehicle system in general," said McLaine.
Over the course of Monday and Tuesday, agencies from all over Central Texas are sending their members to the GM Innovation Center in North Austin to take part in this up close and personal training experience.
"It’s great to have the opportunity to train like this," said Brian Davis, Engine 33 Fire Specialist with the Austin Fire Department. "To invite us and say, ‘hey, let's dispel the myths, the YouTube videos and everything, let’s give you real information, so you can be more prepared.’"
The free sessions consist of classroom instruction and live demonstrations, from how to put out EV fires, to how to safely cut the power to the batteries.
"Probably one of the biggest things to learn is it's all a contained system. And really by cutting a simple 12-volt wire that’s marked in electric vehicles we can actually stop the system from being activated," said Davis.
Aside from hosting training sessions like this across the country, McLaine says GM has actually taken manufacturing steps to make rescues safer—like changing where the batteries go.
"They are typically installed as the bottom part of the vehicle," said McLaine. "There is no risk to trying to cut someone out of high-strength steel when there’s no high-voltage systems around."
As EVs continue to get more popular, Davis says being armed with all the knowledge in a training session, makes all the difference in an emergency.
"It gives us the confidence to roll up on a scene and know that we’re protecting ourselves as well as the occupants," said Davis.
Davis says he will be sharing what he’s learned with other firefighters in his battalion.
For first responders who were not able to make it, the sessions with GM are being made available online.