County firefighters and officials learn about lithium-ion battery fires

Contributed by Mike Feazel

With the increase in fire incidents caused by lithium-ion batteries, Fluvanna County firefighters and county officials participated in a seminar on Jan. 21 on the hazards of the batteries and how to deal with them.

The lithium-ion batteries are fairly new to the fire services and “problematic for the mitigation of incidents, especially electric vehicles, solar farms, and battery energy storage systems,” said Lake Monticello Fire Chief Richie Constantino, who presented the four-hour seminar.

Constantino said the batteries have resulted in numerous fatalities, injuries, and severe property damage nationwide.  They’re used in mobility devices, cell phones, laptops, tablets, scooters, hoverboards, cameras, vehicles, toys, cordless power tools and appliances.

Like any product, a small number of these batteries are defective, damaged, or mishandled by the public, the firefighters learned. They can overheat, catch fire, and explode without warning. They also emit toxic vapors which can cause severe health and safety risks.

Battery fires are very difficult to extinguish due to the stored energy, accessibility and the electrolyte’s severe reaction with water, Constantino said. Last year alone, the New York City Fire Department responded to over 200 fires caused by lithium-ion batteries resulting in 140 people being injured, some critically, with 6 fatalities, and these numbers are still climbing. In Arizona, eight firefighters were injured, two critically, when an explosion occurred in a solar farm’s lithium-ion battery storage system.

The in-depth training session focused on lithium-ion battery technology, behavior, failure, and the many occurrences firefighters and the public will be exposed to, plus the strategies and tactics options for firefighters.

Participants included 40 firefighters from the Lake Monticello, Palmyra, and Fork Union fire companies, plus a Board of Supervisors member, the county administrator, the director of community development, Planning Commission members and the emergency management coordinator.

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