The following commentary by Steve MacDonald has been republished with permission from GraniteGrok.
If we ignore all the hard truths about lithium batteries — like inadequate resources, child labor, carbon footprint, manufacturing and disposal problems — a world with more of these in them has created a challenge for firefighters. There’s no easy way to put them out.
“The lithium-ion battery adds a different degree, when we talk about the fire dynamics of it,” FDNY Deputy Assistant Chief Frank Leeb said at the briefing. “These rooms flash over in just a mere matter of seconds.”
The problem is that lithium-ion fires burn extremely hot and are virtually impervious to conventional firefighting methods that use water or foam. In fact, lithium reacts very badly to water, which is really a problem if firefighters are attacking a fire for which they don’t know the cause.
You’ve probably heard or seen stories about EVs lighting up, sometimes taking out homes or bus depots. What you may have missed is that there is a wide range of “mobility devices” with similar types of batteries. The ones in the laptop, phones, fitness devices, and so on are mostly safe, and while they can light up, they rarely do.
Larger lithium cells in cars, bikes, or (I suspect) even wheelchairs are creating risks, especially in apartment population-dense cities. New York City “Chief Fire Marshall Daniel Flynn says this is almost the 200th fire caused by a lithium-ion battery from a micromobility device just this year in New York City.”
New Hampshire has been adding apartment complexes like mad since Sununu got his state-wide zoning board packed with developer buddies. Have we considered the risks to other tenants created by mobility devices on the premises that come with this added risk? Should we?
As the NYFD says, there is no easy way to put a lithium battery fire out. Water makes things worse. Foam is ineffective. The best course of action is containment. And that’s a huge issue if any of these buildings (or any building) have below-ground parking with office or living space above it, though I’m not aware of any in the state.