Recently, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis issued a consumer alert to warn Floridians about the dangers of electric vehicle fires caused by submersion in saltwater, which are associated with impacts from Hurricane Ian.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) is providing the consumer alert for insurers to share with policyholders. The consumer alert, which includes safety tips from the State Fire Marshal’s Office, is below and also available here.
CFO Patronis Encourages EV Owners to Protect Themselves from Fires Post Hurricane Ian
Florida Chief Financial Officer (CFO) and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis released information to the public on the dangers of lithium-ion batteries risk of catching fire from submersion in saltwater. These batteries are often used in electric vehicles (EVs), electric scooters, golf carts and power tools. To date, eight fires by electric vehicles (EVs) caused by saltwater intrusion have been confirmed by the State Fire Marshal’s Office. For specific questions related to Tesla, first responders and the public are encouraged to visit tesla.com/firstresponders for specific model resources and contact information.
CFO Jimmy Patronis, “When it came to light that we’ve had EVs combusting in areas impacted by Hurricane Ian, the State Fire Marshal’s Office immediately went to work in elevating this issue to area fire teams and distributing critical information. These EV fires are uniquely dangerous, because unlike a combustion engine, the fire will keep reigniting. Moreover, it’s especially dangerous if there’s an EV, golf cart, or scooter in a storm ravaged home. The battery system can become compromised, prompting a fire, which is again, something we really don’t experience with combustion engines. As storm impacted families begin returning to their homes to begin the difficult process of rebuilding their lives, they need to take extra precautions around EVs, golf carts or scooters that were submerged in stormwater: take steps to move it from your house with a professional, do not try to turn it back on, do not unplug or plug it in, and make sure the tow truck operator knows how to deal with EVs. Improperly moving an EV can recharge the batteries, potentially creating a fire.”
Although car manufacturers have not provided data on the location of EVs prior to Hurricane Ian, the State Fire Marshal’s Office in coordination with Florida Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles determined that over 9,700 EVs were registered to drivers within the storm impacted areas of Lee, Collier and Charlotte counties, of which over 7,000 were Teslas. Further analysis determined that approximately 3,400 EVs were Teslas within a 50-meter impact zone, representing the regions inundated by salty storm surge waters.
The CFO continued, “My team has made outreach to manufacturers encouraging them to step up for consumers. Specifically, we are continuing to have conversations with Tesla on what can be done to protect consumers and first responders – and Tesla asked us to promote their website, and other resources as much as possible, so first responders and the public have access to as much information as possible to protect themselves and their property. As I have stated, we have a real-world experiment ongoing in Florida with saltwater and EVs, and it’s in the manufacturer’s interest to do something about it before we have further loss of property, or heaven forbid life, in Florida – or in other parts of the nation. Due to fire reignition risks, it’s a concern for the rest of the nation if EVs compromised by saltwater are resold, and we’ve already gotten unconfirmed reports of these causing fires outside of Florida.”
SAFETY TIPS FROM THE STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE:
- If your vehicle is smoking or on fire, call 911.
- Vehicles submerged in salt water are susceptible for the battery to start “thermal runaway.” This process is demonstrated when the car appears to start smoking or catch on fire.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and never drive or operate a vehicle that was submerged. Follow the specific vehicles manufacturer recommendations for submerged vehicles.
- If your vehicle was submerged and housed in a garage or parked adjacent to other structures or vehicles you can do the following to limit the potential of an incident:
- Do not turn on the EV/Hybrid Vehicle if it was submerged
- Do not charge an EV that was submerged
- Do not attempt to open the battery pack at any time
- In addition, if your home or business has an energy storage system that was submerged, shut the power off to the unit, and contact the manufacturer for information. If it is showing signs of white smoke, contact 9-1-1.
Firefighters are limited in their ability to extinguish any electric vehicle when the battery pack is on fire or is in thermal runaway. The Fire Service may consider allowing the vehicle to run through thermal runaway and not actively work to extinguish the fire if the vehicle is isolated and there is no immediate threat to life or property, once the thermal runaway process starts it is very difficult to extinguish with water and may take up to three hours.
About the OIR
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) has primary responsibility for regulation, compliance, and enforcement of statutes related to the business of insurance and the monitoring of industry markets. For more information about OIR, please visit www.floir.com or follow on Twitter @FLOIR_comm.