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FDNY makes first arrest in illegal e-bike battery sales

The FDNY’s E-bike Task Force had previously issued multiple summons to the Brooklyn store owner

By Roni Jacobson, Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News

NEW YORK — A Brooklyn e-bike shop worker repeatedly accused of flouting laws against selling uncertified and potentially deadly lithium-ion batteries has been arrested on reckless-endangerment charges, FDNY officials said Tuesday.

Friday’s bust was the first time fire marshals have arrested someone for storing and selling uncertified e-bike batteries, a violation of NYC Local Law 39, FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said.

Last year, lithium-ion batteries were responsible for 268 fires citywide that injured 150 and killed 18.

As of Monday, there have been 61 fires in the city attributed to lithium-ion battery fires, with 30 injuries and one death, fire officials said.

Members of the FDNY’s E-bike Task Force had visited the Electric Bicycle Shop on Flatbush Ave. near Avenue D in Flatbush three previous times, issuing owner Tian Liang Lu multiple summonses for having e-bike batteries without proper certification from Underwriters Laboratories.

The certification ensures the batteries have been built to current safety standards.

Task force members returned on Friday to find that the store “showed little or no compliance,” Kavanagh said at a press conference at FDNY headquarters.

“There were 15 batteries and multiple e-bikes without UL certification for sale throughout the entire store,” Kavanagh said. “He violated the rules enough times to feel we had to make a point.”

At the store on Tuesday, Lu said FDNY officials told him he could keep five of the batteries and would have to get rid of the rest.

“A store can only store five batteries, so they gave me a ticket and told me to go to court on May 21,” he told the Daily News. “Before May 21, they came again and said that my batteries had not been taken away, [and] about five days later they came to check again.”

Lu claims he called the battery company to come and properly dispose of them, but they didn’t make it before the FDNY’s E-bike Task Force came back a third and then a fourth time.

“[The] Fire Department guy not give me time,” Lu said. “I told him, ‘Need to call the company, the company need to come, [but] he just call the police.”

Fire marshals took Lu to the 70th Precinct stationhouse to be charged, according to Kavanagh. He was given a desk appearance ticket and is expected to face the charges in court at a later date, a spokeswoman for the Brooklyn district attorney’s office said.

Lu believes there may have been a language barrier and he was unable to explain that the company would come and properly dispose of the excess batteries.

“A lot of bicycle stores in New York sell batteries,” he said. “Why only my store? Why only me that get arrested? They are just talking about me. Why?”

“We went there in September, in January, then again earlier this month,” FDNY Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn said. “If we go there and we told you it was reckless, and if you don’t change your ways, you may be subject to an arrest.”

Kavanagh said that there have been 10 lithium-ion battery fires in the city in the past week. Five of the fires took place over the weekend.

The Electric Bicycle Shop is on the first floor of a three-story building with residential apartments above. If just one of the lithium-ion batteries ignited it could spark a deadly fire like the devastating June blaze that claimed four lives in Chinatown, Kavanagh said.

“This store was operating below residential apartments,” Kavanagh said. “As we have tragically seen, lithium-ion batteries have the potential to explode and rapidly trap residents.”

The department has sent local businesses educational materials to help shops work in compliance with the city law. Many stores have changed their ways, but a few have thumbed their nose at the new laws, she said.

“If we continue to see reckless behavior that does kill New Yorkers, then we will take similar actions,” she said.

Last month a raging Bronx fire that left 10 people hurt and displaced 26 residents was sparked by a lithium-ion battery-powered e-bike stored under the stairs, said FDNY officials. In February, a lithium-ion battery sparked a massive blaze in Harlem that killed a Columbia Journalism School graduate and injured 17 others.

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