At some vehicle fires, it's obvious what dangers are present on approach. Company officers and drivers should know that all ambulances and medic units carry oxygen tanks. Most "roach coach" food trucks and RV's will be carrying propane tanks. When it comes to passenger vehicles, other than CNG/PNG with badging, which are known to transport both propane and oxygen tanks, there are usually no warnings on approach other than an active relief valve or explosion. If the driver of the vehicle is around when arriving on scene, ask if there's anything in the vehicle the fire department needs to be worried about.
Modern day vehicle fires should have all firemen wearing their full PPE/SCBA-especially their facepiece. Approach cautiously and do not get complacent. Doing so might make you a star on the next YouTube video. (WATCH propane tanks explode)
OXYGEN AND PROPANE TANKS
It doesn't take very long for a vehicle fire in a driveway to run up the siding to the soffit and spread into the cockloft.
Electric charging stations are very safe and not cause for concern from a fire standpoint. Although extremely rare, there have been several incidents where private homes were burned due to electric vehicle charging stations inside the garage.
This shutoff will close the line and shut gas off to all of the filling hoses.
Individual filling station emergency shutoffs are clearly marked.
Compressor and gas line explode at a Transit CNG filling station in Lakewood Washington.
The high-voltage batteries in electric vehicles can be anywhere. Nissan Leafs 480 volt DC battery (center) is under the seats.
Airbag gas inflators can explode when exposed to heat from vehicle fires causing serious injury to unsuspecting firefighters reaching inside the vehicle to perform a rescue or operating a handline. It's important that ALL firemen, especially nozzlemen become familiar with the locations where these airbag inflators will be installed as there can be as many as 12 airbags in a vehicle. Watch your head when advancing line into vehicle.
CNG-HYBRID CHARGING STATIONS
We are starting to see an increase in the number of CNG garbage trucks out on the road. These trucks carry several 100 pound carbon fiber cylinders on the roof, or the sides of the truck in a protective housing. If a garbage trucks trash catches fire, the driver is supposed to dump the load immediately, but if it's not safe to do so (wires, traffic, park, school) or the driver doesn't realize it, the cylinders will soon be exposed to fire. If the driver doesn't secure the shutoff valve and the truck is heavily involved, responding firefighters will be arriving to a potentially dangerous situation if they don't recognize it's a CNG truck. Recognizing the badging 'CNG' on the truck and the cylinders within the housing on the roof should be obvious for identification, unless cylinders are hidden in a side compartment. Upon arrival, the company officer must determine whether to make a quick knock down of the trash inside the box (or engine compartment) with a line, cool the exposed tanks on the roof from a safe distance, or both. Request an additional engine and manpower to assist in extinguishment, exposure and evacuation duties.
There's always a risk when relying on the PRD's on the cylinders exposed to fire, as some have failed in the past with catastrophic results. PRD's failing are rare events, but they do happen. When arriving on scene to a CNG truck fire, remember how important apparatus placement is. After identifying the truck as a CNG vehicle, try to locate (or rescue) the driver to confirm if the shut off valve has been secured. CNG truck explosions do happen, so firefighters must remain extremely cautious when approaching for extinguishment, and full PPE must be worn. Locate the CNG cylinders on the roof or side storage compartment and cool them with water on approach if possible, before extinguishing trash from a safe distance. Are the PRD's activated? Are the cylinders threatened? Is it a class A fire with potential for an explosion? If the cylinders aren't threatened, fight it like a conventional truck fire.
Find the CNG transit and sanitation powered vehicles in your response area and prepare to handle these incidents before they happen. Natural Gas Vehicle Safety
CNG COMMERCIAL VEHICLES
CNG vehicle fueling. CNG safety.
This fully involved vehicle burning in between buildings will have ladder companies checking nearby roofs for fire.
VEHICLE FIRES INSIDE GARAGES ARE STRUCTURE FIRES. MAKE SURE THERE'S A STRUCTURE ASSIGNMENT ON THE WAY.
When vehicle fires are threatening an exposed structure (Above Right) upgrade the assignment. Additional companies are going to be needed to access the structure and check for any extension. This fire in Trenton New Jersey was a fully-involved stolen SUV parked in an alley close to a commercial building. In addition to being heavily involved, magnesium added to the problem, and the heat from the fire broke out a 2' thick glass window on the building. Luckily there were two back to back 2' windows, the one on the interior side held. The buildings 2nd and 3rd floor was constructed of lightweight wood truss (pictured below). The drop ceiling plenum area was right above the window. Had the second window failed, it would have been a structure fire. The nozzleman does a good job quickly applying water to the exposed structure on approach, then aggressively knocking down the vehicle fire. (Above Left)
VEHICLE FIRES WITH EXPOSURE
Truck fires on bridges can be a nightmare. From access, fire location, high winds, visibility problems, traffic, running fuel, and rescue operations will all be a major challenge.
Is this really a good spot to stand? Explosion at 0:02 in video. Remember, you still have all the dangers of your conventional vehicle fires.
This tractor trailer (L) fire on an overpass with high winds during rush hour traffic. Some problems encountered here were traffic congestion, hazards to the vehicles traveling below from flying debris and high winds disturbing hose streams.
When you arrive on the scene of a tractor trailer fire well involved, you should immediately request police for traffic control and upgrade the assignment. Remember the rescue of trapped occupants is your top priority. Check for placards on the trailer or ask the driver what the truck is carrying. Apparatus placement is extremely important considering these fires are on highways/main roads with heavy traffic. Park uphill, upwind and block or divert traffic if possible. Make sure you stabilize the tractor trailer if it can safely be done by simply chocking the wheels.
BE CAREFUL when opening the back doors of a trailer. Use the reach of a pike pole and wear your PPE/SCBA/face piece.
A New Jersey Fireman was critically injured when opening the back door of this tractor trailer to extinguish a tractor trailer fire carrying oranges.
Stabilize the vehicle and park your apparatus properly or THIS can happen!
Fire started by the brakes. RV fires are structure fires on wheels.
Common cause of RV fires.
This Florida Transit system passenger bus was torched when a fire originating in the engine compartment spread from the natural gas feeding the fire. The safety PRD activated prematurely, instead of when reaching its dangerous pressure levels. Some newer buses now have fire protection systems the driver can activate in case of fire. In this fire the driver attempted to use a fire extinguisher, which proved to be no match for this gas fed fire. One out of every five buses produced in the U.S. are CNG powered.
THE ROOF OF A N.J. PARKING GARAGE. ELECTRIC CARS CHARGING DIRECTLY UNDER ENERGIZED SOLAR PANELS THAT SUPPLY THE PLUG-IN CHARGING STATIONS.
CNG TRANSIT BUSES, TRACTOR TRAILERS, RV'S,
TIP: Despite the myths and misinformation out there, touching a hybrid vehicle even while in water will not cause electrocution. Fight a hybrid fire like a conventional vehicle fire. Hybrid concerns are hydrogen gas and unexpected movement. When water is used with a nickel-metal hydride battery, hydrogen gas forms causing dizziness, reduced awareness and impaired judgment.
CNG vehicle fires not involving the fueling area are similar to vehicle fires using conventional fuels. Most CNG fires start in the engine area. The gas system has PRDs (Pressure Reducing Devices) that will activate causing a gas fire to be added to your vehicle fire. If the vehicle is well involved and has reached the fuel area, a cylinder failure may result if the PRDs fail to work, which is extremely rare. If the PRD's do fail, you could have an explosion with shrapnel injuring bystanders.
Remember to look for badging, and be very careful on approach. If you can safely shut the fuel valve off under the drivers door, just be aware of the vent line. (Retrofitted vehicle shutoff vehicles can be anywhere) The flame resulting from the PRD should be visible if activated. Cool the trunk area with a straight stream from a distance before you approach.
A Chevy Volt fire well involved. Approach these electric vehicle fires from the side, chock the wheel. These cars will have more than one battery. The 12 volt battery which powers the stereo, starter, wipers, horn, lights, is located in the engine bay. The high voltagebattery (250-600 volts) that operates the electric motor drive system is located on the chassis, with some located in the trunk or wheel well area.
Imagine being dispatched to a reported car fire with no further information only to arrive and find a well involved hybrid vehicle connected to a charging station on the top floor of a parking garage with exposed energized solar panels above. Preplanning response area parking garages will help make these rare incidents easier to handle.
Next to the electric vehicle charging stations powered by overhead solar panels SHOULD be a main power shutoff with a knife switch (in addition to a plug-in cable) to de-energize the vehicle before extinguishing the fire. There will be some residual current but the fire can still safely be extinguished with water. Keep an eye on the solar panels above to make sure they are not bending or sagging from heat exposure. The panels are always energized. Use your stream from a distance to knock the fire down and protect exposure vehicles parked nearby. DO NOT CUT THE HIGH VOLTAGE BATTERY. See Hybrid battery locations below.
REMEMBER: With ALL vehicle fires we must be STILL be cognizant of conventional vehicle fire hazards like exploding tires, airbag inflator canisters, compressed gas bumper struts and magnesium reactivity with water; In addition to alternative CNG/LPG/Hydrogen/Hybrid/Flex Fuel fires that add additional concerns to our modern day vehicle fires.
Can the power source be safely secured (unplugged) while the vehicle is burning? Where are the main shutoffs are located?
Electric cars plugged into charging stations under solar panels, on top floor of a parking garage.
Considerations: Exposure to the solar panels above, connection to charging station, angle of attack & power shutoff.
Cars of the future: Hydrogen vehicles.
Shutoff valve for CNG vehicle.
Some safety features of a CNG vehicle.
Natural gas buses are all over the U.S now. This is what they will look like when well involved and PRD activated. (At 0:54 mark)
Watch this CNG vehicle explode while driving. (At 0:35 mark)
Check for badging to IDENTIFY if it's a hybrid, or LPG/CNG car. Remember to STABILZE and be aware of HIGH VOLTAGE.
LPG, CNG, and electric vehicle fires are ever increasing. As you approach the scene, look for the badging ID on the vehicle.
In the U.S, there are currently over 200,000 CNG vehicles, and 600,000 electric vehicles on the road. Approximately one out of every five new Transit buses produced are run by natural gas.
It is imperative that you know the safety featuresand hazards of these vehicles. Some of these hybrid vehicles are so quiet, you may be under the impression the vehicle isn't even running. Remember to stabilize/chock the vehicle, secure the power if possible.
Watch explosion at 1:54. Exposure to the building is one problem, but what are the contents of the bed?
Watch strut launch at 3:15. Not a good place to be standing or bending over without face protection.
Be careful on approach! This is why you should always wear your SCBA and face piece during vehicle fires.
We are now seeing company car fleets with electric plug in vehicles parked under energized solar panels. These are common at corporations, airports, car rental lots, parking garages and government facilities. They are becoming common sights on rooftop levels of parking garages, making our typical vehicle fires and line deployment much more difficult. Prepare for these scenarios and visit our solar panel and parking garage pages for more information.
HYBRID/ELECTRIC, LPG, CNG, FLEX FUEL VEHICLE FIRES
REMEMBER:Apparatus placement is EXTREMELY important at a vehicle fire. Drivers who get complacent are taking unnecessary risks. Try to park where you can divert or stop traffic, and make sure you're parked uphill/upwind from the fire. Take the extra five seconds to get it right before you park and put your new $800,000 apparatus in pump gear and leave the cab. Keep it off train tracks, blind spots on highways, and exit ramps. CHOCK THE VEHICLE QUICKLY if on a ramp or hill. (VIDEO ABOVE) It only takes a few seconds to chock a wheel.
They are now manufacturing plastic gas tanks, and they melt easily during fire causing running fuel fires. Don't be that pump operator at the bottom of the hill when that "oh shit" moment happens.
PROTECT YOUR RIG: A good proactive driver knows If there's even a slight chance of a running fuel fire coming towards the apparatus, to grab speedy dry AHEAD OF TIME and dike or divert running fuel fires if possible. It only takes a few seconds after the line is charged to chock the wheels of a burning vehicle or grab the speedy dry... just in case!
THINK IT DOESN'T HAPPEN? SEE VIDEO BELOW.
Vehicle fire over a manhole? Or manhole fire under a vehicle?
Vehicles with hydrocarbon based plastics produce even more thick black toxic smoke.
WATCH: Approach from the side or an angle. Cool the bumper from a distance.
Use caution with magnesium fires. It's the new normal, so wear your mask to protect your face.
Be cognizant of exploding bumper struts, compressed gas inflators, airbags, tires.
Started out as a medical call-turned-car fire, then a running fuel fire. Expect these on steep incline streets,
Modern day vehicle fires are becoming more dangerous, requiring a thorough size up and cautious approach as firefighters are faced with more hazards than conventional vehicle fires. Some additional concerns will be exploding compressed gas canisters, struts, plastic gas tanks, multiple airbags, burning magnesium, numerous batteries, energy absorbing bumpers, alternative fuels (CNG, LPG, Hydrogen, Hybrid) and hydrocarbon plastics that produce more heat and toxic smoke.
Magnesium fires can reach temperatures of 5000°F, penetrating bunker gear. When water is applied to burning magnesium, especially a fog pattern, the reaction is a bright flare up (magnesium oxide) and volatile (hydrogen) explosion. Just staring at magnesium fires long enough can cause blindness, long term migraine headaches, concussions and pain similar to 'welders' flash. Always wear your face piece at every vehicle fire. Approach from the side or a 45° angle using a straight stream from a distance sweeping under the vehicle on approach, then cool the bumper strut area second. Let the magnesium burn off while extinguishing the rest of the vehicle first. Most of the magnesium will be in the steering column area, transfer case and engine block. Use a class D (or ABC) fire extinguisher to smother some of the burning magnesium on the steering column and floor board. That, combined with a good 180 GPM solid stream will USUALLY handle burning magnesium in a vehicle. Sometimes you will discover an expensive Class D extinguisher will be useless and letting magnesium burn longer is a better option than running out of tank water, calling another engine company, or connecting to a hydrant. If using the preferred fog nozzle and you encounter magnesium, use a narrow pattern or use a 'breakaway' nozzle for a vehicle fire with magnesium. Extinguish the rest of the vehicle letting the magnesium burn. Shut down the line and remove the fog and then apply solid stream to magnesium. WATCH BELOW:The dangers of vehicle fires caught on video.
See our PARKING GARAGES page for more on vehicle fires.
RV's: Recreational Vehicles
Poor visibility, access and reflex time will add difficulties to PG fires. For more on fires in parking garages, click here.
VIDEO: Shortly after conducting a fire preplan on this CNG sanitation truck (above) a fire started in the battery compartment. By the time fire crews had arrived, the fire had spread beneath one of the truck’s CNG fuel tanks. As the fire intensified, the tank’s pressure relief device activated, venting fuel into the air. The fuel ignited shortly thereafter, erupting in a fireball and launching the CNG tank, damaging homes nearby. No firefighters were hurt. Do NOT always rely on the relief valve working properly.
What happened to the apparatus on the left, could of MORE easily happened to the engine on the right.
CAUGHT ON VIDEO: Food truck explodes in Philadelphia killing 2 and injuring a dozen more. The food truck with a grill was obliterated when a 100 pound leaking propane tank found its ignition source at the grill inside the truck.