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Jul 14, 2024

Notice of Reasonable Accommodations for Individuals with Disabilities
Smoke Detectors Work in Lithium Ion Battery Fire
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By Deputy Chief Rick Schartel
February 19, 2024

A Spring Township family of five was saved from injury and possibly worse by the activation of their smoke detectors due to a fire in their condo. On Saturday night February 17, TSFRS and our mutual aid partners were dispatched to an apartment complex in Spring Township for a possible structure fire. The fire was reported to involve a burning carpet with a heavy smoke condition.

Units arrived on location and discovered a small fire involving a section of carpeting that appeared to have been ignited by a catastrophic failure of a battery operated handheld medical device that was being charged. The smoke from the burning appliance and carpeting activated the smoke detectors, allowing the occupants to safely evacuate and call 911, and then apply water to the burning carpet. Fire personnel arrived and ensured that the fire was extinguished and used fans to remove the smoke. Damage was limited to the carpet and the device, with a coating of soot throughout the unit that required extensive cleanup.

Takeaway lessons learned include:

1. Properly installed smoke detectors work and do save lives. The detectors in this case allowed time to evacuate, call for help and extinguish the fire. While we don’t encourage occupants to go back to fight the fire, a fire caught while small can be successfully managed.
2. Charging battery-operated appliances has risks. We recommend not doing it while sleeping or when occupants are not home. Fortunately, the detectors woke the occupants with sufficient time to escape.
3. When charging a battery appliance, it is best to place the device on a non-combustible surface and locate the device away from escape routes so that in the event of a failure and fire, occupants have a passable way out. The device in this case was out of the direct path from the sleeping area to the outside which allowed the occupants to safely evacuate.
4. The battery pack that failed was relatively small which limited the threat. Charging larger batteries such as those with scooters and bikes should be done outside. Even so, cells from the battery pack rocketed and scattered molten metal well beyond the actual appliance and could easily have ignited nearby combustibles.

This very subject was addressed in an episode of Inside Edition broadcast on WFMZ on Feb. 23. For more information on battery related fires, we recommend checking out Underwriters Labs Fire Safety Research Institute at www.ul.fsri.org, the Natl Fire Protection Assn. at www.nfpa.org and our web site News Archives article of Dec 12, 2023 on the subject.

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