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Fire at General Motors’ EV plant in Detroit results in over $1 million in damages

January 31, 2024

Incident at General Motors’ Factory Zero raises concerns

On December 19, a fire at General Motors Co.’s Factory Zero, the company’s first fully dedicated electric vehicle (EV) assembly plant, resulted in over $1 million in damages.

This incident has raised concerns about safety protocols for battery fires at the Detroit-based facility.

Nearly 100 Detroit firefighters and two dozen fire trucks were deployed to the scene.

According to Dennis Hunter, chief of fire prevention for the Detroit Fire Department, the chemistry of EV batteries, more prone to catching fire, is a growing concern for the industry and first responders.

Increasing challenges for the fire department

The fire department has responded to Factory Zero about eight times since the summer, indicating an increasing frequency of incidents at the plant.

Hunter highlighted the challenges faced by the department: “It is a drain on our resources if we have four, eight or 12 fire apparatuses at their location, depending on the size of the fire, which is why we are working with them to have a better internal protocol for handling these electric vehicle batteries.”

In the December incident, one firefighter was hospitalized with a moderate back injury, and all responders were exposed to lithium-ion off-gas.

Response and mitigation efforts

The fire, which halted production for a day, was reportedly caused by a forklift puncturing a battery materials container.

GM spokeswoman Tara Kuhnen emphasized the company’s commitment to safety, stating: “The safety of our employees is our overriding priority.

We call the local fire department to ensure we have immediate help with incidents — regardless of severity.”

The Detroit Fire Department is now working on a more efficient response plan for emergencies at Factory Zero, a crucial step given the scale of the 11.6 million-square-foot facility.

FSJA Comment

The recent fire at GM’s Factory Zero highlights the evolving challenges faced by automakers and first responders in the era of electric vehicles.

The frequency and severity of these incidents underscore the need for updated safety protocols and response plans, especially as EV production increases.

The collaboration between the Detroit Fire Department and General Motors in devising more effective response strategies reflects a proactive approach to these challenges.

This incident also sheds light on the broader industry-wide issue of managing battery fire risks, not just for GM but for other automakers transitioning to EV production.

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