E-bike fire claims another life as NYC begins proactive battery crackdown: FDNY

An e-bike battery fire has claimed another life as city agencies began a proactive push to prevent similar blazes from occurring, FDNY officials said Friday.

A 67-year-old woman critically injured when a faulty e-bike battery sparked a fire in her Brooklyn apartment building on Feb. 14 died of her injuries at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center earlier this week, fire officials said.

Firefighters putting out the blaze on Goodwin Place near Greene Ave. in Bushwick found 50 lithium-ion batteries inside the apartment where the flames sparked. The the tenant had transformed the home into an off-the-books battery repair shop, Chief Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn said.

“It only takes one,” Flynn said. “Having 50 inside is tremendously dangerous and having 50 that weren’t functioning properly — they’re set to fail. We’ve seen this several times throughout the city where people have these makeshift repair facilities in private dwellings.”

The victim lived in another apartment in the building. Her name was not immediately disclosed. A second resident suffered a minor injury in the fire and was also taken to Wyckoff, authorities said.

To prevent similar fires, FDNY fire marshals, fire inspectors and members of the city Sheriff’s office conducted inspections of Manhattan bicycle shops and other businesses that sell e-bikes and batteries to make sure they weren’t lithium-ion fueled powder kegs ready to explode.

“We inspected these locations to see if they violate the city’s fire code,” city Sheriff Anthony Miranda said Friday. “It’s a holistic response to this dangerous situation. These shops are in buildings with families living above them so these stores aren’t only a danger to themselves, but to everyone around them.

“The joint operation was successful and several violations were issued by FDNY,” Miranda continued. “The infractions observed presented serious safety concerns that were immediately addressed. We will continue to work with the FDNY in their enforcement efforts and follow-up investigations into businesses operating in violation of the law.”

In one bicycle shop on Broome St. in Chinatown, inspectors found hundreds of lithium-ion batteries being charged in racks along one wall next to dozens of e-bikes and scooters. The batteries were being charged in a room where children slept at night, Commissioner Kavanagh said.

“Dozens of batteries were found. That’s incredibly dangerous,” she said. “We have to make sure that locations like these are not operating.”

Inspectors hit five businesses that either sold e-bike batteries or charged the batteries for a fee. The owners received 11 FDNY summonses for violating the fire code, as well as 14 other violations and six criminal court summonses, city officials said.

Investigators inspected two stores on Broome St., one across the street from the other, a shop on W. 47th St. and two other e-bike businesses on Eldridge St., also in Chinatown, Department of Finance officials said.

So far this year, the FDNY has responded to about three lithium-ion battery fires a week, officials said. As of Feb. 13, 22 fires resulting in 36 injuries have been attributed this year to faulty e-bike batteries that explode while being charged, causing a fast-moving fire that’s difficult to stop.

Kavanagh recently wrote to the federal U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission encouraging the agency to exercise its powers to seize “imported devices at the ports that fail minimum industry standards.”

The feds could also rid the city of faulty e-bike batteries by “levying penalties against manufacturers who fail to inform CPSC of hazards posed by products and seeking additional recalls of unsafe products,” Kavanagh wrote to the agency.

The City Council is considering legislation that would ban the sale of off-market e-bike batteries in the city as well as other new safety rules for storing and charging the batteries in residential buildings, Kavanagh said Friday.

“We are coming at this problem from every single angle,” she said.