The National Weather Service, a federal agency within the Commerce Department, issued a “Red Flag Warning” for all of New York City yesterday. It means “that critical fire weather conditions are expected or occurring. A combination of strong winds, low relative humidity, and dry fuels will create a significantly elevated fire growth potential.”
What the U.S. weatherman and weatherwomen didn’t warn is that there is a far more dangerous fire hazard daily: cheap lithium-ion batteries for e-bikes and scooters that explode. One of these chemical time bombs went off in an Astoria two-family house Monday afternoon and killed a 7-year-old boy and his 19-year-old sister.
The Fire Department got there in just three minutes, but it was still too late. Said FDNY Chief John Hodges: “The cause of the fire was an e-bike. It created a heavy smoke condition at the first-floor level that was able to travel directly up the stairs. If this was not an e-bike fire, we would have been able to put this fire out without incident, but the way that these e-bike fires occur, it’s like an explosion of fire and these occupants had very little chance of escaping.”
As Commissioner Laura Kavanagh and her chiefs have said again and again, the cheap, non-approved lithium-ion batteries overheat and explode and then after being doused can still reignite. It took an hour to fully extinguish the 46th St. fire, the 59th lithium-ion blaze this year, that have now claimed six dead, four times the death rate from last year.
Uber Eats, one of the big players whose deliverymen use e-bikes and scooters, has donated $100,000 to the Fire Foundation for lithium-ion battery education efforts. Even more promising, they also have put in more than $500,000 for a buy-back program. Their competitors, DoorDash, Grubhub and Relay, as well as restaurants, should consider the same.
Councilman Keith Powers is looking at setting up a formal buy-back program. One idea for funding is a small fee on every delivery. The cost of more fires and deaths is too high.
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