FDNY: e-bike shop cited for violating lithium-ion battery rules before fatal fire
The Manhattan shop had e-bikes charging with extension cords, e-bike and scooter battery packs lined up next to each other and no designated charging area
By Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — New York City fire inspectors dogged the HQ E-Bike Repair shop since at least 2021 over unsafe handling of lithium-ion batteries before the deadly blaze Tuesday that killed four people in Manhattan’s Chinatown, Fire Department officials said.
One inspection last August resulted in a $1,600 fine, said the officials.
But an undercover inspection in May did not result in any violations, as the inspector did not see any batteries being charged, a Fire Department official told the Daily News.
FDNY Chief Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn told reporters that during the visit last month, the undercover inspector observed “many, many batteries inside the store, which is a violation of the fire code.”
But the Fire Department official who spoke to The News said whether a violation was issued in May would have depended on whether the batteries were charging.
“Having batteries isn’t a violation. Having them charge too close together is the violation. We didn’t see any charging,” the official said.
During the August 2022 inspection, fire marshals found HQ E-bike Repair was charging batteries stacked next to each other and plugged into extension cords — violations that could undoubtedly spark and spread a blaze, FDNY officials said.
The marshals entered the repair shop on Madison St. near Catherine St. in Manhattan on Aug. 30 after getting a 311 tip about charging e-bikes plugged into extension cords, which is a violation of the fire code.
The marshals saw some e-bikes plugged directly into a wall socket, which is allowed, but many were being charged with extension cords.
The e-bike and scooter battery packs were also lined up next to each other — not separated three feet apart, as required by FDNY rules.
“The shop itself did not have a designated charging area,” an FDNY official said. The battery packs were also being charged for more than an hour, which is also a violation.
Marshals gave the owner of the Chinatown store three FDNY summonses for using extension cords and failing to maintain a charging area in accordance with the fire code. They were also given a summons for not having service tags on their fire extinguishers.
At an Environmental Control Board hearing, the business was found guilty of the violations and ordered to pay a $1,600 fine, Flynn said.
“These (violations) were all related to the charging of the batteries and the number of batteries they had at this location,” Flynn said at a press conference outside the bike repair shop Tuesday.
Similar violations were filed against the store in 2021, he said.
The 2021 inspection came about because a Fire Department company “was in the area and observed lots of clutter and fire hazards and then conducted an inspection,” a Fire Department official told The News.
The store was cited in that inspection, the official said, but exact details of the sanctions were not immediately available.
It’s common for stores like HQ E-Bike to flagrantly violate the fire code, FDNY officials said.
In February, fire marshals and city sheriff officers searched a bicycle shop on Broome St. in Chinatown, where inspectors found hundreds of lithium-ion batteries being charged in racks along one wall next to dozens of e-bikes and scooters.
Everyone’s worst fear occurred Tuesday shortly after midnight when a fatal fire broke out in HQ E-Bike Repair and quickly spread through the building on Madison St.
Firefighters pulled seven people out of the fire. As of Tuesday afternoon four people were dead, including a 71-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman. Two women were fighting for their lives later Tuesday.
Two of the deceased had not been identified Tuesday.
The batteries were being charged in a room where children slept at night, FDNY officials said.
So far this year, the FDNY has responded to about three lithium-ion battery fires a week, officials said. Factory-installed scooter batteries seem safe and adhere to industry standards, safety experts say. The batteries that tend to combust are aftermarket products e-bike users buy online or in scooter stores as replacements for the scooters’ original batteries, say FDNY officials.
As of Tuesday, 13 people have been killed in e-bike fires this year, Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said. This time last year, only two deaths were attributed to lithium-ion battery fires.
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