Fire protection for (underground) garages is currently a topic of discussion due to the increasing number of registered electric vehicles (+188.5 percent in the first half of 2021)1 as well as the climate protection target of ten million electric cars on Germany's roads by 2030. In addition, we see spectacular pictures and videos of burning e-cars in the media, which make some people doubt the safety of electric cars. The heated discussion went so far that at times the municipalities of Kulmbach and Leonberg closed their car parks to electric cars.
Are electric vehicles more susceptible to fire?
From a fire protection point of view, there are currently no indications that the fire risk of electric vehicles is higher than that of classic combustion vehicles. This is also due to the fact that every battery-powered car must fulfil the legal registration requirements in the same way as a combustion engine. This already provides a high degree of safety.2 In general, vehicles of all drive types can ignite as a result of defects such as mechanical damage, electrical faults or even thermal effects. Damaged cars, but also defective e-bikes, should never be parked in underground garages and parking garages. This serves to prevent fires.
Danger from smoke gases
The problems with vehicle fires in garages are almost identical for all types of vehicles: The plastic parts installed release toxic fumes during combustion and very high temperatures are generated. Since today's cars are all tending to be larger and thus more plastic parts are installed, the extent of a fire is greater than it was 20 years ago. Toxic smoke gases as well as high temperatures make it difficult for the fire brigade to access the scene of the fire. Extinguishing fires is difficult.
Monitor rooms, install extinguishing systems
This is where plant fire protection comes in. Well-planned, effective smoke extraction ensures both better access and better orientation for the emergency services at the scene of the fire. A speedy extinguishing attack brings advantages and cost savings. In the best case scenario, it prevents uncontrolled fire spread, building damage and the resulting restoration. It also minimises the costly disposal of extinguishing water.
Our CWS Fire Safety experts recommend that property owners and garage operators also consider automatic extinguishing systems. For example, sprinkler or water mist extinguishing systems help to prevent the spread of a battery fire to other parts of the building. Such extinguishing systems are designed individually for each garage. If extinguishing systems are not already prescribed in the fire protection concept, they can be retrofitted. The same applies to fire alarm systems. We recommend that closed garages be equipped with smoke detectors as a minimum. Well-developed, permanently kept clear attack routes for the fire brigade should be a matter of course.
Water is the extinguishing agent of choice
Water is still the extinguishing agent of choice for fires in electric cars: Water is the extinguishing agent of choice. The fire brigade needs it in large quantities to cool down the storage cells. This prevents thermal runaway of the batteries. This so-called thermal runaway occurs when a fire inside the battery releases up to ten times the electrical charge as heat due to sparks jumping from one sub-cell to the next. The fire threatens to get out of control.
The fire brigades use special equipment for extinguishing fires to meet the special requirements. In the electric cars themselves, the battery packs are usually located in the underbody. Reinforced frames protect them from damage and deformation in the event of an accident. In the event of a fire, fire-fighting water must be brought quickly to the underbody. Some vehicles are equipped by the manufacturer with a kind of filler neck for extinguishing water. Sufficient water is therefore a central element of fire protection planning for car parks and underground garages.
Observe fire protection regulations
Charging stations for electric cars in garages are generally permitted. The state building regulations must be observed during installation. In addition, the wiring system guideline specifies fire protection requirements for the routing of electrical cables in escape routes as well as ceilings and walls. To prevent overvoltage and thus the risk of fire, it should be checked whether the connected load and the mains supply are sufficient for the charging station. A surge protection device does a good job. Charging stations for electric vehicles should be set up near entrances and exits. This not only facilitates smoke extraction, but also the work of the fire brigade, extinguishing and towing services.
Tips for owners of e-cars and e-bikes
Owners of e-cars and e-bikes can contribute to fire prevention.
- Do not park defective e-cars or e-bikes in garages.
- Only use original and intact charging cables, these are suitable for continuous use.
- When charging, place lithium-ion batteries of bicycles on a non-combustible surface, e.g. stone floor with sufficient free space around.
Conclusion on fire protection for garages with electric cars
Fire safety experts, fire brigades and insurers are largely in agreement that the general fire risk of electric cars is no higher than that of combustion vehicles. The safety technology of e-cars detects any problems that may occur in the hardware or the charging infrastructure and can shut them down. Overcharging of the battery and the formation of flammable gases are thus less likely. For their part, operators of multi-storey and underground car parks can optimise fire protection by taking technical precautions. CWS Fire Safety will be happy to support you in this.