Brooklyn fire that killed 3 family members was caused by lithium-ion battery in e-scooter, officials say

A Brooklyn fire over the weekend that left more than a dozen injured and killed a grandmother, her son and her grandson was ignited by a lithium-ion battery that exploded, New York City fire officials said Tuesday.

This fatal blaze puts the city on track for a “staggering and devastating” number of fire deaths this year, according to New York City Fire Department Commissioner Laura Kavanagh.

An e-scooter with a lithium-ion battery was charging in the doorway and staircase of a Brooklyn brownstone home Sunday when it exploded and caused a wall of fire that killed Albertha West and her two relatives, according to fire officials. The blaze also left a firefighter badly injured.

In a news conference Tuesday, New York Mayor Eric Adams said his heart goes out to the three generations who were lost in the fire and called the incident “horrific.” 

“It’s very common with these e-bike devices where there’s no time to get out. They start to smolder and within 20-30 seconds they erupt into flames,” FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens said Monday.

So far in 2023, the city has seen 93 people killed in fires and 17 of those fatalities have been due to lithium-ion batteries, according to Kavanagh.

The city is now “on track” to surpass 100 fire deaths this year – an “extraordinary number” that hasn’t been seen “in decades,” Kavanagh said at a news conference Monday.

New York City fire officials say the cause of the fire that killed three people in Brooklyn was a lithium-ion battery in an e-scooter. - FDNY
New York City fire officials say the cause of the fire that killed three people in Brooklyn was a lithium-ion battery in an e-scooter. - FDNY

NYC works to educate people about fire dangers of lithium-ion batteries

The New York City Fire Department, alongside federal and national organizations, plans to launch a national campaign Wednesday aimed at helping educate people about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries.

Kavanagh said the city has passed legislation, has reached out to the federal government, and has for years tried to educate New Yorkers of the dangers of lithium-ion batteries.

She said there’s only so much they can do on their own. Kavanagh said companies like Amazon and Walmart need to do a better job regulating batteries and products sold on their websites, and food delivery companies like UberEats and Grubhub need to do more to protect delivery drivers from unsafe e-scooters that contain unregulated lithium-ion batteries.

“There is blood on the hands of this private industry, both from the online retailers who continue to sell these illegal devices to this day and the food delivery apps who continue to think that this problem will solve itself,” Kavanagh said.  

Fire officials did not confirm if the scooter found in the Brooklyn family home was used to make deliveries, but did say the scooter belonged to one of the family members.

Grubhub spokesperson Patrick Burke said while Sunday’s fire was a “horrible tragedy” the company was “surprised and disappointed” by Kavanagh’s comments.

“We’re surprised and disappointed by the commissioner’s comments given our close working relationship and because we stood with FDNY and City officials earlier this year to commit to increasing fire safety education and outreach in NYC,” Burke said to CNN in a statement.

An Uber spokesperson, Josh Gold, said the company agrees with the commissioner that online retailers need to stop selling uncertified devices.

Gold says the company also asks for the city to implement a small fee on all food deliveries to help “transition” drivers to certified bikes.

A Walmart spokesperson said the company has a “zero tolerance” for fraudulent sellers but did not directly speak to the sale of e-scooters.

“Like our customers, we expect sellers and suppliers to provide accurate and honest descriptions about their products,” the spokesperson said. “When we identify a false claim, we take action to protect our customers and maintain their trust.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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