Additional reporting by Claudia Irizarry Aponte
Dangerous fires caused by the lithium-ion batteries in e-bikes, scooters, skateboards and other equipment are happening in New York more and more.
More than 200 such fires have broken out in the city this year, THE CITY has reported. And they are particularly difficult to fight, according to the FDNY.
Standard household fire extinguishers do not work to put out lithium-ion battery fires, the department has said, nor does water — which, as with grease fires, can cause flames to spread. The explosive battery blazes also give off toxic fumes and can reignite hours or days later.
Increasingly, New Yorkers use e-bikes and scooters for a variety of reasons, from kids and hobbyists who use them for joyrides, to cycling commuters and delivery workers who depend on them for their livelihood.
The fact that there are very few safe, public charging stations, combined with the pressure delivery workers feel to make faster trips — and to sometimes use cheaper products or damaged batteries to get their jobs done — has made the problem harder to solve.
THE CITY newsroom wants to help keep riders safe as we continue to report on the issue. We realize this advice may not always be suitable or practical for some, considering economic and other constraints, but here is our guide on how to best prevent e-vehicle fires, according to the FDNY and battery experts:
EQUIPMENT and CHARGING
- Buy products certified by a third-party safety testing group. The most common one is Underwriters Laboratory, known by its UL icon.
- Use only a charger manufactured for your e-bike or equipment. Don’t use uncertified or second-hand batteries or chargers.
- Plug battery chargers directly into a wall outlet. Don’t use extension cords or power strips.
- Do not leave batteries unattended while charging, and do not charge them overnight. Do not charge batteries near heat sources or anything flammable.
- This electric charging station map from the state may help you find a safe place to charge your e-bike or moped if you have the correct power adapter and equipment.
MAINTENANCE, STORAGE and DISPOSAL
- If your battery is damaged in any way, get a new one from a reputable seller. Altering or adapting batteries is very dangerous and could increase the risk of fire.
- If you get into a crash on your e-bike or scooter, replace a battery that has been knocked or hit. Like bike helmets, batteries should be replaced after a crash even if they are not visibly damaged.
- Store batteries at room temperature, away from heat sources and anything flammable.
- Keep your e-bike or scooter and batteries away from exits and windows in case of fire.
- Never put a battery in the trash or recycling. It is dangerous — and illegal. Always bring them to an official battery recycling center, which can be found at nyc.gov/batteries.
If you want to help THE CITY newsroom spread the word on e-bike safety, download the flier version of this guide through the links below — it is available in Spanish and in English. Once you’ve downloaded the fliers, print copies and distribute them in your neighborhood, through your local library, in your building and other places you think e-bike riders may visit.