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Follow manufacturer instructions with lithium-ion batteries, Calgary fire chief says

While it's a small number, fires related to the lithium-ion batteries is on the rise, said fire Chief Steve Dongworth.

Calgary’s fire chief wants citizens to exercise caution with lithium-ion batteries as they’ve seen a sharp increase in fires related to their use.

Calgary fire Chief Steve Dongworth said Friday that they’ve tracked eight fires in 2022 that were specifically related to the presence of lithium-ion batteries. While that’s a relatively small number, it’s jumped 150 per cent over 2021.

More devices in homes are powered by these types of batteries, but it’s small things that can turn their use – or charging – into a bigger problem, Dongworth said.

“The product itself is safe. I can’t stress that enough,” he said.

“It’s just when people don’t charge them the right way or connect the wrong charger. They don’t follow the manufacturer’s instructions. That’s where we get into trouble.”

Dongworth also said that some of the lithium-ion battery fires that they’ve had have been in garages. While it could be related to hand-held devices, Calgarians could also be improperly charging e-mobility units or cars improperly.

The problems typically occur when a device isn’t used properly. Dongworth is encouraging Calgarians to review the manufacturer’s instruction for proper use and charging. Especially with an influx of new holiday units coming in a couple of weeks.

Fighting lithium-ion fires

Smaller batteries aren’t really an issue for firefighters if they ignite, Dongworth said.

It’s when you get to the vehicles that it presents a much bigger fire challenge. He said the batteries are typically encased in the vehicle’s floor and they burn aggressively.

“If the batteries are damaged in some way, often there’s an impact and to an electric vehicle and that creates a short circuit that eventually causes the batteries to get on fire,” he said.

“They’re very challenging put out – a fire in an electric vehicle.”

Dongworth said there’s ongoing training done by Calgary firefighters to deal with these situations.

“Technology is all around us and it’s changing all the time and we have to we have to keep pace with that,” he said.

Tips for handling lithium-ion batteries properly

The Calgary Fire Department wanted to share tips on handling lithium-ion batteries, especially when charging.

  • When considering purchasing a device, choose those that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory.
  • Only use the battery that is designed for the device and put the batteries in as per the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Only use the charging cord that came with the device.
  • If the device is damaged, take it to a qualified inspector for service before using or charging.
  • Do not charge a device under your pillow, on your bed or on a couch. Place the device on a hard surface to allow airflow around the device.
  • Keep batteries at room temperature and away from direct sunlight. Do not store batteries in hot vehicles.
  • Store batteries away from heating equipment or anything that can catch fire.
  • Avoid crushing, bending, or dropping a device and charger.
  • Never leave mobility devices unattended and charging in narrow exits such as doorways and hallways. In the event of a fire, this will block your escape.