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Battery fires a concern for Maritime departments as numbers grow

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Batteries power many things in our lives, from phones to laptops to even cars, but there’s a danger lurking in our battery dependency.

As electronics become an ever-more pervasive part of our lives, so do lithium ion battery fires. That’s according to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

“The amount of heat that’s produced is so rapid that it becomes, basically, explosive” said Robert Hebb, Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency district chief and Hazardous Materials Response team manager. “At that point in time, anything close by will be consumed by the fire.”

Toronto and Vancouver have seen big jumps in battery fires compared to other types, but it’s not just a problem in big cities.

“Unfortunately because things have happened so quickly and lithium batteries have really experienced such rapid growth,” said Hebb. “One expression that one of the firefighter uses is, ‘We’re literally building the plane as we fly it,’ so we’re fighting these fires and we’re learning as we go.”

Halifax Fire is learning from the experiences of those bigger centres to train for these new types of fires.

Most people don’t realize the danger a damaged or faulty battery creates.

“Please don’t charge your phones on a bed, that type of thing. We’ve seen incidents of that happening,” said Charlottetown Deputy Chief Kent Mitchell. “Excessive heat can cause an issue. We’ve seen an incident where a cell phone has caught fire in a car parked in the summertime, on the dash.”

You should also unplug your electronics after they’re charged and don’t leave them plugged in all night. He said it’s important to always use compatible batteries and cables for electronic devices.

Electric cars have also changed the way firefighters approach vehicle fires, which can take hours and 50,000 gallons of water to put out.

“We’ve learned that it’s quicker to let the vehicle burn out,” said Hebb. “It can take 45 minutes to an hour for it to completely burn out, so we utilize our water to protect the exposures and just allow the vehicle to finish burning.”

E-bikes and scooters are one of the main drivers of the growth in battery fires. He said people should never charge them inside a home, particularly in hallways where they can be both a source of fire and block escape from the building.

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