A fire in a midtown apartment high-rise on Saturday injured 43 people and required firefighters to make a vertigo-inducing rescue to save a woman dangling from the 20th floor of the building, according to fire department officials and video posted on YouTube. It is the latest fire caused by a lithium ion battery fire from an electric bike or scooter.
According to a narrative of the event posted by the FDNY, the fire began by the front door of the apartment, blocking the only way the people inside had to get out. One woman tried to escape via the window but “was caught on the child gate,” according to the FDNY. One firefighter, Artur Podgorski, lowered himself under the woman so she could rest her weight onto his and free her arm. Then the pair were lowered into the window below.
“It is a team effort,” Podgorski said. “You have to put trust in the members above and below you.”
The FDNY posted a photo of a burned out device on Instagram with the caption “the cause of this fire is a lithium ion battery which is meant to power a micro mobility device.” The photo the FDNY posted appears to show a heavy-duty scooter. The wheels are too small to be an e-bike or e-moped.
It is common for those types of scooters to be modified after-market so they can travel at faster speeds, which involves increasing the voltage delivered to the motor from the battery and is a leading cause of scooter battery fires. Modifying or repairing e-bike or e-scooter batteries is a major fire safety risk.
E-bike and e-scooter fires are an increasing problem in New York City. According to the FDNY, Saturday’s fire was “close to our 200th fire this year” caused by lithium ion batteries in micromobility devices. As Motherboard reported earlier this year, many of the city’s e-bikes and e-scooters are purchased in bulk from a factory in China that lacks safety certifications for its batteries. However, it is not clear to what degree the batteries themselves are compromised or become compromised through damage, poor charging practices, modification, or repair.