3rd May 2024

Equipping firefighters for the electric age: How ACC is training firefighters on the risks of battery fires.

Photo of ACC freefighters in training

Lithium-ion battery fires present unique challenges. 

As electric vehicles and energy storage systems become more widespread, the risk of battery fires has increased. The lithium-ion batteries used in these applications today can pose unique firefighting challenges due to their high energy density and potential for thermal runaway. 

As a battery manufacturer, we have developed robust emergency procedures to manage these risks. We have identified and analysed all potential risks and taken measures, both technical and organisational, to control and reduce them at source, right from the design of buildings and industrial processes. But to go all the way and effectively mitigate these risks, it is vital that firefighters are trained specifically to deal with battery fires.

Proper training equips firefighters with the knowledge and skills necessary to respond to battery fires safely and efficiently. By understanding the specific hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries, such as the potential for re-ignition and the release of toxic gases, firefighters can take appropriate precautions and employ effective tactics to control and extinguish these types of fires.

Training also helps firefighters to recognise the signs of a battery fire and distinguish it from other types of fire, allowing them to tailor their response accordingly.

For this reason, our HSE teams at our Billy Berclau Gigafactory and at Nersac are taking proactive measures to train and equip their firefighters and the local fire brigades to respond effectively to potential battery related fire incidents.

Training Firefighters at the Billy-Berclau Gigafactory

At Billy-Berclau, a team of around 30 trained on-site firefighters are present 24 hours a day to ensure our safety and that of the local community. Their role? To provide an immediate response to contain the situation before external emergency services arrive, which is essential to limit the impact and spread of an incident.  

Jean-François Bart, Safety and Fire Protection Manager at the Gigafactory ACC in Billy-Berclau explains : “Five employees from the Gigafactory underwent a four-day Second Intervention Firefighting Team training programme at the National Centre for Protection and Prevention (CNPP) in Vernon, Eure. The training focused on teaching the participants how to use Category 3 self-contained breathing apparatus and how to operate hydraulic fire-fighting equipment”. The training covered all the essential manipulations and behaviors required to fight a fire. 

Yoanns Vandeputte, a utilities supervisor, found the training quite "grueling and impressive", referring to the various simulations that demanded calm and composure.

All of the Utilities staff will also be trained in firefighting techniques and the use of breathing apparatus. 

This training programme is part of a wider strategy to ensure optimum safety at the Billy-Berclau industrial site. The Gigafactory fire brigade has recently been equipped with two vehicles (a rescue and assistance vehicle and a van with a pump and onboard tank) and 250 employees have been trained in first aid and the use of fire extinguishers. Additional training programmes will be rolled out over the coming months.

Training Firefighters at our Nersac Pilot Plant

At Nersac, Philippe Kreher, Health, Safety and Environment Manager at the pilot plant, has also taken steps to familiarise the local fire brigade with the site and its facilities: “The Nersac site is not subject to the SEVESO directive, so it is not compulsory to have firefighters on site, but the company has been proactive in working with the local fire brigade. Every Friday since October 2023, we have been receiving first intervention firefighters from the surrounding area. We present them with the site's equipment, risks and appropriate materials to be used, as well as practical information on battery cell fires. In November we also hosted the SDIS Chemical Hazards Unit for crisis management training. They asked us to organise visits for volunteer firefighters in training at the Charente fire brigade, so we organised site visits for them every Saturday in February and March.

Proactive training and cooperation between industry and emergency services is key to ensuring the safety of our communities. Once trained, firefighters can in turn play a key role in educating their communities about prevention and response measures. All of these actions are an essential part of our protection plan.