Euclid firefighters sound the alarm on dangers of lithium-ion battery fires

Published: Aug. 15, 2023 at 7:01 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Fires involving lithium-ion batteries are becoming a big problem.

They’ve led to multiple injuries and deaths across the country, and northeast Ohio is beginning to see the problem here.

A monstrous fire started at an e-bike shop earlier this year in New York City, spreading to the apartments above and killing four people.

In June, a large fire started by an e-scooter injured seven people in the city.

In 2022, the FDNY responded to 220 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries.

So far through July 2023, firefighters responded to 87 fires with injuries, resulting in 13 deaths.

19 Investigates found local firefighters are sounding the alarm.

They want you to learn how to protect yourself and stay safe.

“It’s almost like a torch. Yeah, and if it’s around combustible materials, then that’s what’s going to ignite and feed the fire,” said Kevin Bittner, a fire safety inspector with Euclid Fire Department.

Lithium-ion batteries power things we use every day, from e-bikes and scooters, to cell phones and tablets, electric vehicles and vaping devices.

But firefighters across the country are seeing more fires caused by these devices.

19 Investigates found local fire departments here in northeast Ohio are seeing these types of fires too.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration says lithium-ion batteries are generally safe.

But defects and damaged batteries, often from misuse, can change that.

“We’re seeing bad habits, we all do it. We plug in our cell phone overnight by the bed. You’re not supposed to do that, it needs to be plugged in in a place where it’s not by flammable objects,” Bittner said.

Fire Safety Inspectors Drew Bacik and Kevin Bittner are with Euclid Fire Department.
Fire Safety Inspectors Drew Bacik and Kevin Bittner are with Euclid Fire Department.(WOIO)

Euclid Fire Department has responded to several fires sparked by lithium-ion batteries.

We also spoke with Fire Safety Inspector Drew Bacik.

“So it’s about awareness. It’s getting that message out there. If you have an e-bike or an electric scooter, you don’t want to modify the battery. And anyway, those products need to be purchased new and you need to use the cord that came with them when you charge them,” Bacik said.

Firefighters also urge you not to charge a lithium-ion battery device unsupervised.

And be careful where you charge it too.

“What’s unique about Euclid is we have around 7,000 apartments and those apartments only have one way in or out, so if somebody has an e-bike or an electric scooter and you know, they come in and the first thing they do is plug that in right at their front door-- if that if there’s a malfunction or a fault with that, that battery is the cause of the fire. They’re going to have a real hard time getting out,” Bacik said.

You should also keep lithium-ion batteries out of the sun and in a cool, dry place.

And buy UL-certified electric bikes and scooters from trusted retailers.

If a fire starts from one of these devices, firefighters stress you should call 911 right away and don’t try to put it out yourself.

Even baby monitors can be a risk.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission just put out a recall notice a few days ago for baby monitors by Philips Avent due to a burn hazard, saying, “The rechargeable lithium-ion batteries... can overheat during charging.”

Fires from these batteries ignite quickly and can cause explosions which can be challenging for firefighters to put out.

Here’s what you need to look out for.

“There’s early warning signs, smoke. The very first sign is probably going to be a smell, you’re gonna get an off-gas smell, something’s not right and it’s gonna smoke, then it can ignite after that. We tell you if you see the smoke, see flames, if safely you can do so, remove the plug from the device. Get it away from anything that’s flammable and get out. That’s the most important thing,” Bittner said.

Some bipartisan congressmembers are trying to limit the importing of unregulated e-bikes and batteries into the U.S.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has said federal regulation could take years.

The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, PUCO, just recently announced hazardous training grants to several local fire departments.

Aurora and Green fire departments, along with the Huron County Emergency Management Agency, received funding to train personnel for lithium battery emergencies.

You can read more on safety tips for using lithium-ion batteries from FDNY here.