A roaring, billowing fire on March 5 in Fordham Heights tore through a supermarket and caused significant damage to its neighbors. The cause? A damaged lithium-ion battery that exploded. It stirred lawmakers to propose new safety standards.
“We were reminded yet again this past weekend of the escalating threat lithium-ion batteries poses to the public’s safety,” said U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres said following the fire. “The time has come for the federal government to act because this problem is not isolated to just New York.
Torres unveiled “Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-ion Battery Act.” The legislation would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to establish a final consumer product safety standard for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in e-scooters and most bikes.
The five-alarm blaze that took more than five hours to get under control injured five fire fighters with minor injuries while one EMS and civilian suffered serious.
City fire department robotics supported operations in the fire to ease the fire as well. Drones aided in tactical decision-making on where the fire expanded to and gave the incident Commander an overview of the scene, which is not visible from the street, according to FDNY.
The fire department said that rechargeable lithium-ion batteries have caused almost 440 fires over the last four years leading to more than 300 injuries and 12 deaths with 2022 remaining the highest in all cases.
In 2021, 17 lithium-ion-related fires began in NYCHA properties; the following year, it decreased by one. And currently from January to March there has been only one.
“That one building that was burnt down was terrible,” said Shahid Shamraz, owner of Skyview Cafe and Deli in North Riverdale. “You know a fire can catch on anything, but it must be mismanaged or something.”
Shamraz owns a moped that he charges outside his store, where they do 25 to 30 deliveries a day, he said.
Improper use or storage in extreme cold or hot environments can damage lithium-ion batteries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the result can lead to damage and fire or explosion.
Two lawmakers joined the effort to address the concern of lithium-ion batteries. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz sponsored the first bill that would require all lithium-ion batteries and chargers for sale in New York to meet the minimum industry safety standard. The second bill, sponsored by Sen. Liz Krueger, would ban the sale of second-hand batteries used for e-bikes.
The first bill would pose civil penalties as low as $200 for first-time violations and $1,000 for continuous violations.
“ I don’t begrudge the hard-working delivery workers who rely on e-bikes to do their jobs, but at the same time we need to ensure that everyone is able to trust that their devices are safe to use and store,” Dinowitz said in a statement to The Riverdale Press.
“When a piece of equipment has the potential to cause so much damage, we simply cannot have a Wild West approach without any oversight,” Krueger said.
“Micromobility devices are here to stay, and their use is continuing to expand, so we must act quickly to ensure they are used responsibly that doesn’t put other people at risk.
The bills identify four organizations that approve devices that certify they are safe.
• Underwriters Laboratories
• The International Electrotechnical Commission
• The American National Standards Institute
• The Society of Automotive Aerospace Engineering
To see if your electronics are safe, just look at the little label on a power cord. There it reads the organization’s name or acronym.
“The undeniable cause of the tremendous increase in fire frequency, in my opinion, is the huge amount of shoddy lithium-ion batteries being bought and sold in New York City,” Dinowitz said.
“I believe cracking down on faulty products and second use batteries will restore confidence in rechargeable battery technology and will ultimately save lives through preventing fires before they even start.”
Torres has shown previous commitment to addressing the safety of others not only in New York — but throughout the whole country.
He sponsored the “Empowering the U.S Fire Administration Act” after the Twin Parks North West fire last year, which President Joe Biden signed into law. Torres is also co-sponsoring the “Safer Heat Act of 2023” to address concerns with portable heaters.