NSW announces compulsory training for firefighters to deal with electric vehicle incidents

Firefighters in New South Wales will need to complete compulsory training on electric vehicles amid a boom in their sales and a spate of lithium battery fires across the state.

The state recorded four lithium battery fires in a single day on Friday, with emergency services responding to blazes in Bankstown, Silverwater, Lake Macquarie and Berkeley. The deaths of two people in a house fire in Lake Macquarie in February were believed to be the first fatalities caused by a lithium battery fire.

While none of those fires were in electric vehicles, the cars are powered by lithium battery technology. The state’s peak motoring body said electric vehicle fires were relatively uncommon but could be “dramatic”.

There are now more than 180,000 EVs on Australian roads with 98,436 of those bought last year, the Australian Electric Vehicle Industry Recap 2023 found.

The state government announced on Saturday that all 65,000 NSW emergency responders, including paramedics, police officers and State Emergency Services members would be offered the electric vehicle incident response training, provided by Tafe in collaboration with NSW Fire and Rescue.

The online course would include rescue techniques involving EVs and the safe transport and storage of damaged EVs. All Fire and Rescue NSW firefighters must complete the training.

The NSW minister for emergency services, Jihad Dib, said electric vehicles “are only going to become more common” and that the government wanted to encourage their uptake.

“The increasing presence of EVs on our roads means our emergency responders must adapt and expand their response capabilities,” he said.

“This free microskill course is a great opportunity to learn how to handle electric vehicle incidents and the challenges unique to these.”

EV fires can start after the battery has been damaged or if impurities from manufacturing errors cause short-circuits.

Chemical reactions can then start what is known as thermal runaway, with battery cells overheating and emitting toxic gases before exploding into flames.

Peter Khoury, from motoring body the NRMA, said that EV fires were rare but dramatic.

“There’s not a lot of EV fires but they are dramatic and we’ve heard the stories about how difficult they are to put out,” Khoury said.

“But as a comparison to the number of petrol and diesel car fires you get, it’s still less.

“We’ve been preparing for [more EVs on the road] for quite some time.”

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