NEW YORK, N.Y. (PIX11) – Lithium-ion batteries have existed for decades. Still, in recent years they’re being made with new technology for use in electric bikes and scooters at lower costs and lower quality, and it’s rapidly claiming lives.
In 2019, the FDNY said there were 30 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries with no deaths reported.
Just two years later in 2022, the department responded to 220 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries and six people were killed as a result.
Not even halfway into this year, the fire department is investigating 68 fires and five deaths.
Daniel Flynn, the chief fire marshal, said fatalities are the most important statistic.
“We’re set to well-eclipse that stat from last year,” Flynn said. “To put that into perspective, we’ve had 37 fire fatalities so far this year – five of those are from these devices.”
These batteries are found in everyday products like iPhones and laptops, but what’s causing most of these explosions are the poorly manufactured batteries used for micro-mobility devices like e-bikes and electric scooters. When left to charge overnight, a chain reaction called thermal runaway can take place in the battery.
“We don’t want it to continue to charge once it’s fully charged because that will just make it get hot,” Flynn added. “There are a lot of cells in the battery, so when one cell fails, a lot of times it will propagate to the other cells.”
Alfonso Villa lost his 8-year-old daughter when the battery on his e-bike exploded at his Queens home.
“Tell the whole world not to bring the batteries inside your house because the batteries can kill your family in one second,” Villa said.
The FDNY is actively investigating these batteries.
“We’re trying to get to the bottom of where they came from, try to find manufacturers having these problems more commonly than others,” Flynn added. “We’re working with our partners in the Consumer Product Safety Commission to try to get national data as well.”
Attorney Michael Lamonsoff is representing two people who were severely burned when a battery caught fire in a high-rise building in midtown last year. Firefighters saved one of the victims during a dramatic rope rescue from the 20th-floor window.
“She ended up scorching her right hand,” Lamonsoff said. “She will lose all the fingers on her right hand.”
The second victim, a model, escaped through the apartment’s front door but not without injuries.
“He is seeking mental health help,” Lamonsoff said. “He knows that he can never, ever model again.”
Lamonsoff’s clients are suing the building owner because they claim no smoke alarms or sprinklers went off. They’re also suing the electric bike company and the battery manufacturer.
The fire department wants to ensure consumers buy high-quality devices and chargers. Right now, there is no federal safety standard for what’s allowed to be sold, but legislation has been introduced.
The New York City Council passed a legislative package prohibiting the sale of these devices and batteries that are not UL-certified.
“I think will make a huge difference,” Flynn added. “That’s a testing lab that puts them through a lot of experimental testing and makes sure that they are safe to be on the market.”
The FDNY also consistently puts out educational information, but it’s not enough to be the only solution.
Local elected officials say more needs to be done at all levels of government.
While regulations have yet to be put in place, it’s recommended to charge your devices outside. If you live in an apartment, guidelines say you should not charge your device overnight and you should always use the battery and charger that the device comes with.