A fire in a Harlem apartment early Wednesday at the lithium-ion battery on an electric scooter killed a 5-year-old girl and a 36-year-old woman, and left the child’s father in critical condition, police and fire officials. said.
Firefighters responded just after 2:30 a.m. to a fire in a sixth-floor apartment in the Jackie Robinson Homes, which is owned and managed by the Housing Authority of the City of New York. The scooter was inside the front door of the apartment, blocking the exit, according to the Fire Department. The fire was contained to one apartment and brought under control an hour later. A firefighter and at least one other person received minor injuries.
Outside a multistory NYCHA building on Wednesday, a charred scooter sat unattended. Former co-workers and neighbors of the father, who they identified as Erick Williams, 46, said it belonged to him. They described him as having a lot of fun and said he had previously worked with the Parks Department. Police did not immediately release his name, his daughter and the woman, who neighbors said was his girlfriend.
There have been a number of fires involving e-bikes and scooters in recent months, leading the housing authority to recommend ban them completely from their buildings. Experts say the problems are often related to aging, damaged or malfunctioning batteries and charging devices. The Fire Department has repeated warning of the dangers of lithium-ion batteries.
Another fire Monday on Townsend Avenue in the Bronx was also started by lithium-ion batteries from e-bikes or scooters, fire marshals said. Wednesday’s fire brought the number of deaths related to lithium-ion batteries this year to five, according to Fire Department statistics.
Marshals have conducted 121 battery-related investigations so far this year – more than last year’s 104 – and have recorded 66 related injuries. For all of 2021, there were 79 injuries and four deaths related to lithium-ion batteries. (Although those batteries are also found in cellphones, laptops and electric cars, there have not been widespread reports of those items catching fire.)
According to NYCHA, since 2019, there have been approximately 10 public housing fires that have been officially or probably caused by lithium-ion batteries. In a statement on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the agency said that the public comment period for the proposed new policy to ban e-bikes and e-bike batteries in their buildings was extended until September 6, and that the agency would issue a final policy after that date.
The Fire Department distributed pamphlets and leaflets about fire safety and advice on the use of e-bikes and scooters near the scene of the fire on Wednesday. Among the tips: Before buying an e-bike, make sure it has the UL Mark, which means it has been tested and meets safety standards. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storage, and use only that company’s power cords.
E-bikes have grown in popularity in recent years, but many who use them – both for work and pleasure – may struggle with these guidelines. Doing so can be much more expensive than buying off-brand or refurbished equipment. And e-bikes are often used by delivery workers who are making very low wages and have to rely on bikes in the first place.
There were only e-bikes legal in New York City in 2020, when many residents relied on delivery services, even though they were a common sight before. As well as concerns about fire safety, there is also an increase friction on traffic safety on the crowded streets of the city.
Inside the Harlem building Wednesday, the walls of the hallway near the apartment were blackened, and there was the smell of smoke. A woman who lives on the fifth floor said she had escaped with her children, including a 3-month-old baby.
“It’s scary,” she said. “It’s a tragedy that it happened, that a little girl was lost.”
Outside, a pair of former co-workers – Stephanie Cardona, 46, and Courtney Story, 52 – discussed setting up a memorial. They worked with Mr. Williams at the Parks Department, where they said he was a crew chief. The scooter, they said, “to carry.”
Ms. recalled. Cardona said Mr. Williams was always at the local park with his daughter and three Huskies, who they said also died in the fire.
Miss Story was moved to tears as she thought about the struggle Mr Williams faced.
“I hope to God he pulls through,” she said. “It’s going to be a process to pull through, and then your child is gone.”
“The world is not playing fair at all,” she said.
Alain Delaqueriere added research.