Lithium ion batteries are everywhere. They power our cellphones. They have revolutionized how we get around. They reside in wheelchairs, scooters, hoverboards, power tools, cars and storage systems for your home. When they are maintained appropriately and charged safely, they are wonderful tools that can provide us with hours of work or enjoyment.
How many of you knew that they present a very challenging and unique fire hazard? When these batteries overheat they can catch fire very easily. Overheating can be caused by faulty batteries, improper charging or poor maintenance. Once they heat and catch fire, that fire can spread to surrounding battery cells very quickly, almost explosively. This leaves you with very little time to react.
Additionally, these fires are difficult for fire departments to extinguish. Lithium ion batteries can and will reignite even after the fire is put out. This reignition may occur minutes, hours or days later. This means you as a homeowner will have little success in extinguishing them on your own.
Last, when the batteries fail, they can emit very toxic gasses. Burning lithium ion batteries can emit methane, acetylene, hydrogen and hydrogen fluoride. This makes the gasses they emit very flammable and toxic to breathe.
As a result of the variety of hazards, Charlotte Fire and Rescue has the following recommendations:
• Avoid placing devices in direct sunlight or near heat sources.
• Devices should only be repaired by trained professionals using only manufacturers’ parts.
• Only use chargers and peripherals recommended by the device manufacturer.
• Never charge these devices in front of doors or windows (your escape paths).
• Never leave your devices unattended while charging and unplug them when charging is completed.
• If you notice your device changes shape, is making an odd noise, emitting gas, overheating or changing color, discontinue use immediately. If it is safe to do so, remove it from your home.
• Never dispose of lithium ion batteries in the trash.
• If your device begins emitting smoke or catches fire, leave the area immediately and call 911.
Your household extinguishers may be minimally effective against these types of fires. Contact Chittenden Solid Waste District for advice on disposing of used or damaged lithium ion batteries.
Justin Bliss is chief of the Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services.