Fire Dept. warns of emergencies caused by Lithium batteries
The Huntsville/Lake of Bays Fire Department warned about an increase in emergencies involving Lithium Batteries, in the May 9, 2023, Lake of Bays Council meeting.
According to the Fire Department report, these batteries are recognized as a global concern in the fire services area given that they are a part of the public’s daily life. The challenge for the department is with understanding when the batteries become “unstable,” otherwise defined as a “Thermal Run a Way.” The battery short circuits and there is a chemical reaction causing it to rupture, release Hydrogen, and overheat, and possibly cause a fire.
The report also indicates areas that can impact the stability of the battery include environmental temperature, such as being too hot or cold, exposure to water, dropping it, aging, electrical, including overcharging or short circuits, and manufacturing, such as loose parts or contamination.
Deputy Fire Chief, Paul Calleja, attended a conference in New York City, an area dealing with their fair share of emergencies given their size, said they are “leading the way regarding Lithium Battery emergencies,” and sharing information across North America. He added that these types of emergencies are “a recognized issue in property loss and fatalities.”
Calleja said the local department had four fire incidents involving the batteries in the past six months, including from tools with the batteries left inside them and left in the back of pick-up trucks. He advised that tools should be stored separately from the batteries.
Councillor, Mike Peppard, inquired about whether the issue is with smaller or larger battery units.
Calleja advised that any size can have issues, however, reassured that the batteries are “designed to work well and be safe.” He said when they are used in accordance to manufacture guidelines, they are safe. Problems primarily occur from being used incorrectly or abused.
Mayor, Terry Glover, suggested that another issue arises when people replace the batteries with cheaper alternatives. He said, “If we followed the rules, we’ll generally be okay.”
Calleja agreed that people sometimes don’t want to pay the manufacturer’s price and replace them with knock offs that aren’t designed for the product. He added, “The chemical reaction in the battery can be violent and extreme depending on how big and how it’s used.” For instance, leaving cell phones in a hot car. He added, “Buy proper components and use it the way your supposed to and it will be okay.”
Council discussed indicators of an unstable battery, such as the hissing, popping sounds, and smoke coming from it.
According to Calleja, when a battery is at this point it “builds hydrogen gas that has to be released,” and it’s a fire hazard.
Councillor, Nancy Tapley, inquired about whether cell phones left in chargers on a table are a problem.
Calleja said, “Yes, they are a concern.” He shared that extreme caution is even used when a person drops a cell phone in between a seat on a plane, and that the protocol is that they have to get a flight attendant to retrieve it for safety reasons, because even “bending the battery can compromise it.”
Glover inquired about what people are to do once they call the Fire Department after hearing the popping sounds of a battery.
Calleja said, “Close the door, after you leave the building and call 911.”
Glover inquired about whether an expanded cell phone means it’s “ready to blow,” and emphasized the importance of educating kids about this.
Calleja confirmed that an explosion can happen. He said, “Laptops are known for that.” Once they overheat the battery is starting to have a chemical reaction. “if kids devices heat up…be aware it could be a compromising battery.”
The department hired a new member, Steve Markham, that will begin providing ongoing public awareness about the issue, including to contractors and senior’s residents. Mobile devices using batteries, such as scooters, can be problematic, for instance when batteries aren’t changed.
Storing larger items such as scooters and e-bikes is also extremely important, according to Calleja. He said that fatalities have occurred with these items stored near exits, preventing people from getting out in the event of fires. He said, “There’s nothing wrong with having them, just charge them in the proper location…that way if we have an issue, we can get out safely.”
Calleja emphasized the importance of calling the Fire Department in the event of an issue with the batteries. He warned the unit can be hot putting people at risk for burns if they try to deal with it. And for those that are worried about being a nuisance, he said, “Let us determine whether you’re being a nuisance… Call 911 and let us look after it.”