en
The remnants of a lithium battery pack, ruptured from an explosion, lie amid the water deployed to extinguish a fire at a residential complex on Tiogue Avenue in Coventry, Rhode Island. As per the Rhode Island Office of the State Fire Marshal, the fire erupted on the night of March 11, 2024, when an electric bike was connected to the battery pack using an inappropriate aftermarket charger. (Photo courtesy: Office of the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal)
22 Mar 2024

Fresh money may be allocated to train firefighters to deal with lithium battery fires

en

The government in Rhode Island state may soon allocate special funding to train firefighters to handle lithium batteries and lithium battery fires - problems are not primarily with EVSand E-bikes but also with batteries as small as those found in remote controlled toys, phones and watches. 

 

Photo Credit: (Cover Photo above) 
The remnants of a lithium battery pack, ruptured from an explosion, lie amid the water deployed to extinguish a fire at a residential complex on Tiogue Avenue in Coventry, Rhode Island. As per the Rhode Island Office of the State Fire Marshal, the fire erupted on the night of March 11, 2024, when an electric bike was connected to the battery pack using an inappropriate aftermarket charger. (Photo courtesy: Office of the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal)

 

Representative Megan Cotter, a Democrat from Exeter, still recalls the heart-stopping moment in 2017 when her mother called to inform her that their home was engulfed in flames, as reported by The Rhode Island Current. 

"The school called and said, 'I'm so sorry to hear about your house,' and I was like, 'I'm not even home yet. What happened?'" Cotter recounted, describing the frantic phone call she received while rushing back from her job in Needham, Massachusetts.

Upon arriving, Cotter found her street cordoned off, surrounded by fire trucks, with only a charred foundation remaining where her house once stood. Thankfully, her husband and son, who were inside when the fire broke out, escaped unharmed but shaken.

An investigation by the Rhode Island Office of the State Fire Marshal revealed that the fire was ignited by a lithium-ion battery from her son's remote-controlled car, which her husband had left charging in the garage. The battery exploded, reducing their home to rubble within an hour.

Sadly, such incidents are becoming increasingly common in Rhode Island and nationwide, with rechargeable batteries powering various devices, from toys to laptops, being implicated in fires due to product safety issues and insufficient public awareness regarding battery usage and storage.

On March 11, a fire erupted in an apartment building on Tiogue Avenue in Coventry, attributed to an e-bike battery charged using an aftermarket cord. Three individuals were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, and it took firefighters from multiple departments several hours to extinguish the blaze. The intense flames and sudden explosions associated with battery fires pose significant challenges for firefighters.

State Fire Marshal Tim McLaughlin emphasized the severity of such incidents, stating that extinguishing fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, especially in electric vehicles, requires extensive resources and time.

In response to the growing threat posed by lithium-ion battery fires, Representative Thomas Noret, a Democrat from Coventry, introduced a resolution in the Rhode Island State House. The proposal seeks to allocate $60,000 from the state's fiscal 2025 budget to train firefighters at the Rhode Island Fire Academy specifically on handling lithium-ion battery fires.

"We're witnessing a surge in the prevalence of these batteries in households, and it's becoming a pressing issue," Noret remarked, highlighting the urgent need for proactive measures to address this safety concern.

Since 2020, the State Fire Marshal’s office has associated lithium batteries with 16 fires, according to Given. However, detailed information, such as an annual breakdown or fires investigated by municipal fire departments, was not readily accessible.

The Wall Street Journal reported a significant surge in battery-related fires in New York City, with incidents more than doubling from 2021 to 2022. The trend continued into 2023, with the Fire Department of New York City documenting 286 battery-related blazes, as per the Journal's report.

While the National Fire Protection Association has raised concerns about the connection between lithium-ion batteries and fires, it hasn't quantified the nationwide incidence of such fires due to the evolving nature of the technology, stated Susan McKelvey, a spokesperson for the association.

The impact of enhanced training on firefighters' ability to manage fires in Coventry or incidents like Cotter’s home fire in 2017 remains uncertain. Nevertheless, it's evident that preparedness plays a crucial role, especially considering that only a small fraction of state and local firefighters have received formal training in handling battery fires, according to Mark Pare, director of the Rhode Island Fire Academy.

The bulk of the funding ($50,000) in Noret’s bill would facilitate the training of 50 firefighters statewide on lithium battery fires, adopting a "train the trainers" approach to disseminate expertise across various fire departments.

“This is a nascent technology, and as with any new technology, we must acquire the necessary skills to manage it,” Pare emphasized. “The current national curriculum offers limited information on this topic.”

“I cannot stress enough the critical importance of using compatible chargers and equipment for the safe operation of e-bikes and electric vehicles,” McLaughlin remarked in a statement following the Coventry fire. “If mishandled or damaged, lithium batteries have the potential to ignite or explode, emitting toxic gases and generating extremely high temperatures.”

Cotter’s family experienced firsthand the consequences of mishandling batteries. After rebuilding their home on the same site — fortunately, the $400,000 loss was covered by insurance — the family installed a dedicated battery box to safely store and charge batteries for their toys, e-bikes, and other gadgets.

“We are very cautious,” Cotter stressed. “I think many people are still unaware.”

Noret’s bill awaits consideration by the House Committee on Finance, with no hearing rescheduled as of Monday.

 

Photo Credit: (Cover Photo above) 

The remnants of a lithium battery pack, ruptured from an explosion, lie amid the water deployed to extinguish a fire at a residential complex on Tiogue Avenue in Coventry, Rhode Island. As per the Rhode Island Office of the State Fire Marshal, the fire erupted on the night of March 11, 2024, when an electric bike was connected to the battery pack using an inappropriate aftermarket charger. (Photo courtesy: Office of the Rhode Island State Fire Marshal)