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Responding to lithium-ion battery fires

Li-ion batteries are here to stay and it’s on firefighters to keep up with advances in battery technology

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for all my friends in the fire service, and it’s a big one, folks. Today I want to talk about lithium-ion battery fires.

Rarely does a week go by without headlines about fires caused by lithium-ion batteries. In New York City, the problem of lithium-ion battery fires led the city council to enact local ordinances related to the storage, service, sales, and charging of these devices.

Devices powered by lithium-ion batteries have been around for many years and are common in the home. You might have some lying around in the form of laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones. They may be in your garage too, such as a rechargeable lawn mower or power tools. There may even be an e-bike or scooter out there. And don’t forget the electric vehicle and its charging station.

The Fire Safety Research Institute and the FDNY have been studying lithium-ion battery fires and the best ways to extinguish them. First, the bad news: You can forget about using dry-chemical fire extinguishers. They don’t provide cooling to curb the thermal runaway. CO2 fire extinguishers will not be effective.

Water is still the best extinguishing agent for lithium-ion battery fires, though an enormous amount of water is needed. The goal is to cool the battery pack and eventually stop the thermal runaway.

For smaller lithium-ion devices, tossing them in a bucket of water or the bathtub is the simplest way to mitigate the problem. One warning: Don’t pick up the device with your hands; use a shovel or other tool.

Folks, lithium-ion batteries are here to stay because they provide an effective solution for energy storage. It’s up to you as firefighters to keep up with advances in battery technology and train, train, train on the best methods to extinguish these fires.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Until next time, Gordon Graham signing off.

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.