Mooresville Fire-Rescue Warns of Lithium-Ion Battery Dangers

Mooresville Fire-Rescue Warns of Lithium-Ion Battery Dangers for Residents, Fire Departments, and Tow Companies

Mooresville Fire-Rescue (MFR) is warning residents, businesses, neighboring fire departments, and tow companies of the dangers involving Lithium-Ion batteries. These batteries are built into electric and hybrid vehicles, cell phones, toys, power tools, and other many other commonly used items.

In mid-June, MFR Captain Wesley Harrington held a class for local and neighboring fire departments and emergency management personnel. Course material included how and why lithium-ion batteries catch fire, how to attack these types of fires, and how to properly dispose of the batteries after the fire is extinguished. Harrington showed fire departments examples from across the U.S. of how quickly lithium-ion batteries can catch on fire if they are not used properly, overcharged, or involved in a crash. The  National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) says these fires can involve a process called thermal runaway.

“When batteries catch fire, they do not dissipate energy, especially if not all the batteries are on fire. This can lead to what’s called thermal runaway- when overheated batteries quickly release stored energy. This causes a vapor cloud, a popping sound, then flames!” said Harrington. “We’ve seen cases across the country where electric vehicles catch on fire and those flames quickly spread to nearby cars or a person’s house.”

Harrington says overcharging is the number one reason why lithium-ion batteries catch fire. He also warned against buying third-party or after-market lithium-ion batteries. Mountain View Volunteer Fire Department responded to a house fire involving after-market power tool batteries that caught fire after being left on a charger.

When Mooresville Fire-Rescue arrives on scene of a car fire or crash scene, Harrington says they first identify if the vehicles involved are electric or hybrid vehicles. If they are, they will investigate to determine if the battery is involved in the fire or not. If the battery is not involved, they will put it out as a normal car fire. However, if the battery is involved, they will call the HazMat team in and begin dousing the vehicle with water.

The Fire Department of New York City (FDNY) has led the country in responses to lithium-ion battery fires. FDNY recommends dousing the car or device with water until there are no more visible flames or smoke. Then, they keep a close eye on the car/device and the lithium-ion batteries because the NTSB says the batteries oftentimes reignite. FDNY recommends firefighters use non-conductive shovels and equipment when moving the car or device from the area.

MFR Captain Harrington says disposing of the batteries can be challenging for fire departments nationwide. He warns that firefighters should not submerge lithium-ion batteries because they will still react under water and cause vapors to release into the air, which could potentially create a HazMat situation. If the batteries are small (cell phone, toy, or power tool battery), MFR will uses a product that contains dry granulate materials to keep the fire extinguished.

If an electric vehicle has caught fire, Harrington says they’ve worked with local tow companies to carefully transport the vehicle to their tow yard and keep it away from other vehicles. The NTSB recommends a 50-foot radius around the vehicle and/or battery. This prevents other vehicles from catching fire if the car reignites.

When a homeowner wants to dispose of a lithium-ion battery, whether it’s caught fire or not, the EPA and Mooresville Fire Marshal Office warn do not dispose of these batteries in household garbage or recycling bins! The paper, plastic, and glass inside those bins could cause the batteries to reignite. The EPA recommends disposing of lithium-ion batteries at recycling or hazardous waste collection sites. In Iredell County, residents can utilize the Mooresville Transfer Station.

“Lithium-ion batteries are not dangerous when used correctly and taken care of,” said Harrington. “It’s when they’re overcharged, involved in a crash, or are third-party batteries that people run into dangerous situations.”

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