Putting out a Tesla Model S fire is pretty hard

Electric cars might be a silver bullet for our transport woes, but what happens when they break down – or crash? They look the same as conventional cars on the outside, but when something goes wrong, the process for sorting EVs out is very different to what we’re used to.

Putting out a Tesla Model S fire is pretty hard

Don’t believe me? Watch this video of firefighters putting out a burning Tesla Model S wreck. It turns out there are far more steps to be taken when an EV is on fire than when a normal car is on fire.

The video, 

posted on Jalopnik, captures the aftermath of a Model S crash in the Tyrol region of Austria, and shows firefighters dealing with a blaze. According to a local newspaper, a 19-year-old woman crashed into a concrete barrier near a building site, and after leaving the car safely, it burst into flames. 

Fighting the fire

That’s not too shocking, but what is worrying is the 35 firefighters and five vehicles it took to put out the blaze. The firefighter team put out the following statement (translated by Jalopnik):

“The firefighting – which could only be carried out under severe respiratory protection – was difficult because the vehicle was repeatedly catching fire. It was only after cutting the power supply from the high-performance batteries that it was possible to finally fight the fire. Since lithium batteries are used, the manufacturer recommends that the vehicle be parked under “quarantine” for 48 hours, so that no new fire can break out.”

In the excerpt above, the Austrian firefighters describe how serious respiratory protection had to be used, and that’s mainly due to the toxic vapours released when an EV’s lithium-ion batteries bite the dust. According to Tesla’s own safety guidelines, a burning battery will release “toxic vapours” such as “sulphuric acid, oxides of carbon, nickel, lithium, copper and cobalt,” so a gas mask is essential.

What’s more, the firefighters also mention cutting off the car’s power supply, and it turns out that Tesla has its very own method for this. The front trunk of every Tesla Model S features a “first responder loop” consisting of low-voltage cables, and cutting it turns off the car’s high voltage systems. Newer Tesla Model S models have an additional cut point for emergency services, just behind the rear doors. You can see that happening in the picture below.

However, even with the high voltage system off, Tesla still advises that large amounts of water be used to cool down the car’s battery. And after that, Tesla says the car should be parked “in quarantine” for a further 48 hours, just to make sure no new fires start.

Welcome to the new future

The firefighters did everything they were supposed to do, and the fire was put out according to Tesla’s guidelines.Most importantly, the Tesla Model S’ chassis did what it was supposed to do, and the passenger was fine. However it’s an interesting example of just how different electric cars are, and the often overlooked differences EV tech comes with.

Every EV on the road is powered by similar battery technology to something like the Galaxy Note 7, and when things go wrong, they may be more troublesome than we realised.

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