FDNY marshals report: Lithium-ion battery found in apartment that sparked fatal fire
The battery added to the “heavy smoke condition” that filled the building, officials said. Most of the residents who died suffered smoke inhalation
By Chris Sommerfeldt, Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News
NEW YORK — Firefighters extinguishing the Bronx blaze that killed 17 people earlier this year found an e-bike battery in the apartment where the fire erupted, the Daily News has learned.
E-bike batteries like the one found in the Twin Parks apartment complex are directly responsible for a half-dozen deaths in the city so far this year, but the battery discovered at the fatal fire was not the cause of the Jan. 9 inferno.
It did, however, add to the “heavy smoke condition” that filled hallways and staircases, the FDNY confirmed Tuesday. Nearly all of the building residents who died, which included five members of one family, suffered smoke inhalation, authorities said.
Fire marshals determined that a faulty space heater sparked the blaze, which was exacerbated by two defective hallway doors in the 19-story high-rise that did not self-close as designed, FDNY officials said. The landlord of the building is facing massive fines and lawsuits over the deaths for not properly inspecting the doors.
As they hosed down the third-floor apartment where the fire began, firefighters found a destroyed e-bike at the top of the stairs of the duplex apartment. They also found 40 burnt lithium-ion cells that went into the single battery, according to an FDNY incident report acquired by The News.
Fearing that the cells could reignite, firefighters put them in two drums and took them outside the building for disposal.
“The large amount of combustibles inside the apartment, furniture made with foam cushions and an e-bike with its battery on the main level of the apartment all contributed to the hot and smoky fire that challenged the resources and commitment of the FDNY,” the report notes.
The other combustibles included bunk beds and at least three mattresses in the back bedroom where the space heater ignited, fire marshals said in their report.
“Everything in the apartment burned to create a heavy smoke condition,” an FDNY spokesman added. “The open door allowed the smoke and flames to spread to the hallway prior to our arrival and open doors allowed it to spread to upper floors.”
Residents trying to escape the smoke and flames were found unconscious all over the building. After an exhaustive apartment-by-apartment search, the Emergency Medical Service rushed 35 residents to five area hospitals for treatment.
“This smoke extended the entire height of the building — completely unusual,” then-Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. “Members found victims on every floor, in stairwells, and were taking them out in cardiac and respiratory arrest.”
The Twin Parks apartment was considered the deadliest fire in New York in decades and sparked a raft of new legislation that included new rules for inspecting and enforcing self-closing doors in apartment buildings and outlawing space heaters that do not come with an automatic shutoff setting.
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Lithium-ion batteries were responsible for 202 fires in the city so far this year. About 140 people have been hurt and six people have been killed in these fires, FDNY officials said.
That’s more than double the number of lithium-ion battery fires the FDNY saw last year. During the same period in 2021, 100 fires had been linked to e-bike and scooter batteries, fire officials said.
As a result, some building landlords, as well as several colleges, have banned lithium-ion battery-propelled scooters and e-bikes from their buildings. The City Council is also considering legislation to regulate sales of the batteries.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sent a letter to 2,000 manufacturers and importers of e-bikes and other e-devices on Tuesday urging them to comply with relevant safety standards due to an uptick in fires.
From Jan. 1 through Nov. 28, the agency received reports of at least 208 fires or overheating incidents due to the devices, the CPSC said.
The reports came from 39 different states and resulted in 19 deaths and at least 22 injuries after e-bikes, hoverboards and e-scooters went up in flames.
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