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GM's Factory Zero raises fire safety concern, Detroit Fire Department urges action

Fires at GM EV plant have fire officials demanding changes
Fires at GM EV plant have fire officials demanding changes 02:24

(CBS DETROIT) – The Detroit Fire Department is raising alarms over safety concerns at General Motors' Factory Zero, where the automaker produces its electric vehicles.

It comes after a massive response from DFD on Dec. 19, 2023, when firefighters were called to GM's Factory Zero to put out burning pallets of lithium-ion batteries.

According to a report from the Detroit Free Press, it was one of eight times DFD has responded to the facility since last summer.

GM says it's standard protocol to contact the local fire department whenever there's a potential incident, and they'll evacuate the plant if battery cells are involved.

The automaker says it met with DFD leaders the month after the incident that caused $1 million in damages.

Andres Gutierrez/CBS Detroit

A DFD official told the Free Press they've urged GM to invest in equipment like monitoring systems and fire-containment containers to prevent such incidents, especially given the risks of handling lithium-ion batteries.

Some of those risks came up on Thursday by other members of the fire service during a hearing on Capitol Hill regarding EV fires.

"The personal protective equipment, especially when it's exposed to lithium-ion gases in a pressurized environment, such as the garage you see in front of you, then leads to extraordinary cleaning costs of around $500 to $1,000. This personal protective equipment must be sent off-site. There is no fire department that I have knowledge of that possesses the cleaning. Generally, it's a co2 compressed system to remove the gases," Dan Munsey, San Bernardino County, California fire chief, told lawmakers.

It's not just members of the fire service worried about the toxins in the aftermath of an EV fire.

"How far would it spread? There's elderly people that live in the area. You know, I'm sure there's plenty of kids around here as well, you know, they shouldn't have to be subjected to, you know, all the toxic chemicals and the possible danger," said Mary Paul, who lives in Detroit's Poletown East neighborhood across from Factory Zero.

In a statement, a GM spokesperson wrote in part, "We are actively working on increasing site capability to manage incidents, including the purchase of additional mitigation and response equipment."

"Our fire marshal division will continue to monitor GM's next steps and provide guidance around best practices already in place at several other EV plants across the country," Detroit Fire Commissioner Charles Simms said. 

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