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Lithium-Ion Battery Safety from the Bureau of Fire

February 16, 2024 | Bureau of Fire Department of Public Safety
By: Fire Marshal Division

These days lithium-ion battery powered items are proliferating our lives. With popularity of battery powered devices increasing substantially all the time, Lancaster Bureau of Fire would like to offer some facts about lithium-ion battery fire hazards and suggest safe usage practices to those that live, work, and play here in the city.

Firstly, we are going to address the fire hazard of lithium-ion batteries. The batteries are made up of cells. Some battery packs only have a handful of cells while larger batteries have numerous cells within them. Regardless of how many cells there are, all it takes is just one cell to have a chemical failure which creates immense heat which results in a fire. YouTube is an excellent resource to see videos displaying this phenomenon. It’s no joke.

With the awareness of the fire hazard, we can offer some good, common-sense tips for safe use of these lithium-ion batteries.

Probably one of the most oft-occurring mistakes that may cause a battery to ignite is charging practices. These batteries are all built to be charged at a specific rate of electrical current and products come from the manufacturer with a supplied charging cord or dock. It is very important to follow the manufacturers’ instructions on battery handling and charging which includes using the correct rate of charge cord or dock. Preferably, the manufacturer’s supplied cord or dock should always be used. This is easily the best way to avoid accidental thermal runaway because the battery is getting charged at the rate engineers designed it. Accidental misuse occurs, in one manner, by chargers that deliver too much charge too quickly, or have no safety features in them that will stop the charging if a problem is at hand.

Another issue is handling the batteries. These batteries do not like frequent impacts on them, it can compromise the dividers between cells and cause shorting, which leads to mishaps. If your battery is bulging, replace it and remove it from use. This is a sure sign its integrity is compromised. So, handle your batteries carefully and limit impacting them.

We’d like to offer advice on charging practices. Do not charge your battery in a location that, if it were to ignite, inhibits your means of egress. It is always a good idea to keep your way out of a room, apartment, house, or wherever, clear of obstructions. Always have a back up plan in place to get out regardless of where you are, charging batteries or not. Be aware of the surroundings where you’re charging your battery. Look for easily ignitable combustible or flammable materials and do not charge batteries near them.

This information is not intended to imply that all lithium-ion batteries will cause a fire. In fact, most will not and with safe handling and awareness, we can all do our part to limit negative occurrences.

Learn more and access educational resources from the National Fire Protection Agency at www.nfpa.org/education-and-research/home-fire-safety/lithium-ion-batteries.