Elon Musk Blames Firefighters for Making Tesla Sedan’s Fire Worse

Talk about passing the buck

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The fire fighters didn’t read the driver’s manual!

In a blog post Friday afternoon, Tesla Motors founder and public genius Elon Musk said a fire that broke out in the company’s heralded new electric car spread because first responders wrongly punctured a hole in a metal firewall.

When the fire department arrived, they observed standard procedure, which was to gain access to the source of the fire by puncturing holes in the top of the battery’s protective metal plate and applying water. For the Model S lithium-ion battery, it was correct to apply water (vs. dry chemical extinguisher), but not to puncture the metal firewall, as the newly created holes allowed the flames to then vent upwards into the front trunk section of the Model S. Nonetheless, a combination of water followed by dry chemical extinguisher quickly brought the fire to an end.

The Tesla Model S sedan ran over a piece of metal on Tuesday that pierced a battery pack in the front of the car, sparking a small fire whose flames were caught on a video posted to YouTube. The driver had time to pull over and get out and the flames never made it into the cabin thanks to another firewall, but the video of the fire was enough to send Tesla stock tumbling.

Musk’s post offers comforting words to current and potential clients and investors—including an email message from the driver of the damaged vehicle, in which he writes that he is “still a big fan of your car.”

“For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid,” Musk writes.

Read the full post here.

4 comments
JohnR
JohnR

"Talk about passing the buck"? Wow. Talk about misinformation. Tsk, tsk, Mr. Rayman. You're way off base, blatantly erring in the direction of sensationalism. Seems a little silly to prepend such a big, bad title to such a small article, especially if the article doesn't support the title. IMHO.

But really: Mr. Musk simply said "it was correct to apply water (vs. dry chemical extinguisher), but not to puncture the metal firewall..." blah, blah, blah. I'd say virtually all reasonably objective folks - like me (!) - would say Mr. Musk was both restrained and respectful, if not kind, to Kent, WA's firefighters (please keep reading, don't blow up yet, so to speak).

Take a look at "Extinguishing In-Flight Laptop Computer Fires - Lithium Battery Thermal Runway", courtesy FAA, uploaded to YouTube on 1/26/10, at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS6KA_Si-m8

The few minutes of online research I just performed r/e flammability by type of Li-ion battery got into all kinds of debate. However, this one little video tells us how to put out a laptop battery fire on an airplane. It makes a very solid assertion and demonstration that (1) the optimum method of putting out a Li-ion battery fire is to use water - only water - to both put out the fire and cool the battery to stop thermal runaway that will reignite the fire. (2) A close-to-best method of fire suppression is to use a dry chemical - the airplane had Halon 1211 - to extinguish the fire, followed by the use of lots of cooling water or nonflammable whatever-liquid to kill thermal runaway. (3) One should NOT use anything that insulates, as it will aid thermal runaway. They show that piling ice on the laptop will cause the battery to explosively reignite. Weird.

Another thing I learned from other websites is that (4) generally speaking, pounding/puncturing Li-ion cells can aid thermal runaway and produce fire, though a couple of demonstrations showed that Tesla's Li-ion cells are not affected by this. Also, (5) Tesla offers videos, PowerPoint presentations, and whatever-instructional materials for firefighters. One of them, found in several articles, including ""Watch the Jaws of Life tear apart a Tesla Model S", at

http://www.autoblog.com/2013/03/06/watch-the-jaws-of-life-tear-apart-a-tesla-model-s/

is fun to watch in that it does exactly what the title says to the right front corner of a Model S.

It would appear that all fire departments need to be trained in a better version of the (1) - (5) info that I found in perhaps 30 minutes. Tesla may already have the program, and electric vehicle (EV) response trainers for firefighters exist, like the two guys who star in the previously mentioned video. They need to make a living, too, right?

Several auto journalists seem to think that Tesla has put a huge amount of time, work, R&D, money, thought, worry, and patents into its carefully liquid-heated-and-cooled battery and battery control system. Some say it is superior to other auto Li-ion batteries/battery control systems. Even so, there is evidence that Tesla is working on a significantly better, cheaper battery that is critical to the creation of their so-called Gen 3 $35K EV-for-everyone.

I'd say battery technology is complicated, and pretty important to Mr. Musk. Perhaps Mr. Musk felt obliged to both (a) briefly, quietly state a fact for the narrative about this fire, and (b) correctly reference the tip of an iceberg that is the education of firefighters about the different, and correct, way to handle EV's and hybrids. Public safety, and the fate of EV's/hybrids, including Tesla, hangs in the balance. Again, IMHO.

Thank you.

chokingkojak
chokingkojak

Me at Tesla dealership:  "Uh, is it too late to get that onboard-fire-suppression-system option installed?"

AndrewLang
AndrewLang

What a stupid headline, he simply described what happened and why.