A firefighter has spoken of the moment he arrived at a property engulfed by flames after an e-bike battery exploded, as calls grow for the government to crack down on the devices.
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is backing proposals by charity Electrical Safety First for the batteries to be regulated like fireworks and heavy machinery, which require third-party approval before going on sale.
Phil Bowman, from the London Fire Brigade (LFB), attended a devastating fire at a house in Ilford last summer.
Residents were woken by a popping noise and smoke after a battery charging next to their bed blew up.
“The fire was reaching the rafters of the roof,” Mr Bowman recalled of the moment his crew arrived.
Despite his crew managing to put out the fire, the e-bike battery reignited several times.
Upon returning to the property afterwards, he said “the entire front of the first floor was burnt to the bare walls”.
“The ceiling and roof were completely destroyed, smoke damage had affected every room on the first and ground floor,” he added.
“If the resident had not woken up, or if the charger was on the ground floor, I imagine the outcome would have been much worse with life-changing serious injuries or loss of life.”
The Ilford incident was one of 87 e-bike fires and 29 e-scooter fires attended by LFB in 2022, and there have been 128 and 26 respectively so far this year.
Fire chiefs back call for crackdown
Electrical Safety First has proposed legislation that would require e-bikes, e-scooters and their batteries to undergo third-party approval before coming to market, impose a temporary ban on “universal chargers” that may not be compatible with certain batteries, and introduce clearer warnings on lithium-ion batteries.
The proposed bill has today been backed by the NFCC.
At the moment, lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes and e-scooters can go on sale with only the manufacturer’s declaration that they meet safety standards.
That is the case for many electrical goods, but exceptions exist for pyrotechnics, medical kit, and heavy machinery.
These lithium batteries contain much more energy than regular ones – the charity estimates a fully charged e-bike battery releases a similar amount of stored energy as the amount of explosive material inside six hand grenades.
Council chair Mark Hardingham said: “These incidents can result in explosions, toxic gases and catastrophic fires which not only put people at significant risk, but are a real challenge for firefighters.
“It’s not enough for fire services to advise people to charge these products safely – we must ensure the products in their home are as safe as they can be.
“We are urging an MP to adopt the bill that would introduce much-needed measures to improve safety.”
The issue of e-bike and e-scooter safety currently falls to the Office for Product and Safety Standards, which in September launched a public awareness campaign about the use and charging of the vehicles.
E-BIKE SAFETY TIPS FROM LONDON FIRE BRIGADE
- Do not attempt to modify or tamper with your battery
- Converting pedal bikes into e-bikes using DIY kits bought online can be very dangerous
- Check your battery and charger meets UK safety standards
- Always use the correct charger and buy an official one from a reputable seller
- Let the battery cool before charging
- Unplug your charger once it’s finished charging
- Fit alarms where you charge
- Never block your escape route with anything