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Fire Safety Advisory: Lithium-Ion Batteries

Posted in: Fire Safety Updates

Photograph of burned lithium-ion batteries
Aftermath of a lithium-ion battery fire

Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) is the most popular rechargeable battery used today.  They are commonly found in cell phones, laptops, tablets, electric cars, and scooters/bikes. This type of battery is low maintenance, has no memory and no scheduled cycling required to prolong the battery’s life.

Despite the many advantages associated with the lithium-ion battery, there are drawbacks. One of the most dangerous being the all too real possibility that these batteries can overheat, catch fire, and in extreme cases explode. This is normally caused from “thermal runaway.” Thermal runaway is when the temperature inside the battery reaches the point that causes a chemical reaction.  Energy stored in the battery is released very suddenly creating extremely high temperatures and off gassing.

Fires involving lithium-ion batteries have been increasing at an alarming rate and have resulted in numerous injuries and fatalities. Even when the initial cause of a fire was not the lithium-ion device, the involvement of lithium-ion batteries in a fire can increase the intensity and magnitude of the fire. Recently, a high-profile fire in Manhattan involving lithium-ion batteries required New York City Firefighters to rescue trapped occupants. The firefighters were lowered by a rope and removed the victims out of a window on the 20th floor.

What is the problem:

  • When a battery is defective or damaged; it can overheat, catch fire, or explode.
  • Once the battery ignites, it burns extremely hot and lets off toxic gases.

Signs of a problem: 

  • If the battery changes shape or color.
  • If the battery begins to leak or gives off an unusual odor.
  • If the battery feels hot to the touch or begins to smoke.

Safety Tips for Lithium-Ion Batteries:

  • Always follow the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Only purchase and use devices, batteries, and chargers that have been listed by a nationally recognized testing lab.
  • Only use batteries and chargers specifically designed for the device.
  • Do not store batteries in direct sunlight.
  • Do not use extension cords or power strips to charge multiple devices at one time. Plug the charger directly into the wall receptacle and only charge one device at a time.

Additional Information: