An apartment fire in Manhattan’s East Village has again brought the safety of e-bikes under question. While a convenient method of short-range personal travel, e-bikes have proven to be a persistent danger if not meticulously maintained.
The New York City Fire Department found that a 32-year-old man was charging nine lithium-ion e-bike batteries simultaneously overnight. Then, one of the batteries exploded, starting the fire. The inferno was so intense that it blew out windows in the building. The blast also knocked a wall down inside of the apartment. The man was trapped by the blaze and lost his life.
The destroyed wall showered debris down on two teenagers sleeping in the next room. Witnesses recorded the 18-year-old woman and her 13-year-old brother as they escaped out of the fourth-floor window. They traversed the building’s exterior and then shimmied down a yellow conduit pipe to the ground.
Their 46-year-old mother, the victim’s girlfriend, couldn’t escape the apartment. Neighbors attempted to kick in their front door before the FDNY arrived but could not get inside. The fire department responded to the fire in four minutes, but the fire engulfed most of the apartment in half that time. The mother is currently in critical condition at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Four other building residents suffered minor injuries.
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A neighbor told the New York Daily News that the victim repaired e-bikes. The FDNY found seven e-bikes in the apartment. FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said, “Last year we had 44 fires and no deaths, this year we have had 93 fires, more than 70 injuries and now four deaths caused by lithium-ion battery fires.”
Citing the dangers of transporting damaged lithium-ion batteries, it has become official FDNY policy for its EMS units not to transport patients’ e-bikes inside ambulances. The increasing omnipresence of e-bikes in urban areas has coincided with a decline in lithium-ion battery quality. Pairing those factors with poor user upkeep and batteries have become ticking timebombs.