A car fire in an electric vehicle is a completely different kettle of fish than an engine fire in an ordinary car. First responders, for example, have to be warned against cutting into the 360-V lines connecting the battery to the electric motors.
That's one reason why the NFPA, Chevy, and OnStar have organized training for first responders in how to deal with such factors as the 400-lb lithium-ion battery in the Volt which, if sufficiently heated during a car structural fire, could start to burn. Training sessions on the Volt, which took place in five U.S. cities last year, were the forerunners of a more comprehensive, emergency-response training program that NFPA will debut in April.
NFPA got a $4.4 million grant from the DOE last year to develop an Electric Vehicle Safety Training Project. Similar to the Volt training sessions for firefighters, the program will use videos and a variety of other means to help first responders (including emergency medical technicians and law enforcement officials) safely work among components of EVs, plug-in EVs, and hybrids during emergencies. Partnering car dealerships may supply EVs during trainings to help emergency responders understand the components.The program also extends to cover fires and other emergencies in EV charging stations.
The NFPA recently described its programs in this area, as well as other things to be concerned about in an EV fire, in a recent article on the NEC site: http://www.necplus.org/Features/Pages/TakingCharge.aspx?sso=0