E-bike blamed for Bronx grocery store fire that left 7 hurt

A five-alarm fire erupted in the Bronx Sunday morning after an e-bike inside a grocery store caught fire. Firefighters spent hours extinguishing flames on East 180th and Grand Concourse. Seven people were injured — five firefighters, one EMS worker, and one civilian.

FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh says that there have been more than 400 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries in New York City over the last four years and just this year alone, there have been more than two dozen fires, resulting in two deaths.

"It is a crisis," said New York City Council member Keith Powers. "It's a full-blown crisis."

Although fire crews responded to the fire in less than four minutes—the ion lithium battery shot out searing flames so quickly, igniting the old, aged lumber, it had already spread out of their control.

"It’s really something that we have never seen before," said John J. Hodgens, Chief of Department.

In response to the rash of fires sparked by lithium-ion batteries, the city council is now stepping in, hoping to curtail the problem.

They have passed a flurry of legislation, aimed at cracking down on refurbished and cheaply made batteries. They have also implemented a battery buy-back program.

"We cracked down on the sale of batteries that are the most dangerous ones," says Powers, "We banned refurbishing ones, that can be really dangerous."

"The other program created a fireproof container so that when you are charging it within your house, and it explodes, we have a fireproof container," says Powers.

The intention is to give out the containers to delivery workers who rely on the bikes.

The boom in e-bikes has resulted in a boom in after-market batteries and unsafe usage, which the city is taking steps to fight.

"We do see this as a solvable problem," says Rob Slone, who is working with the city council to help find solutions to the problem. Slone, who works for UL Solutions, has proposed a certification program for all new batteries used in the city.

"Usually when certification systems are introduced, you'll see something like an order of magnitude reduction in incidents in an area. It's never going to be zero. We cannot account for every single use case how people treat their e-bikes. That's also important for this. But it's a massive reduction typically and safety concerns once the certification program is introduced," Slone said. 

For more on the city’s efforts to educate the public about lithium-ion batteries, check out: https://www.fdnysmart.org/

To learn more about UL-2849 through the company, UL Solutions, visit this link.