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Subcommittee Chairman D’Esposito Delivers Opening Statement in Hearing on Fire Hazards, Lithium-Ion Battery Risks

February 15, 2024

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology Chairman Anthony D’Esposito (R-NY) delivered the following opening statement in a hearing to examine threats to fire safety, specifically the threats posed by lithium-ion batteries.

Watch Chairman D’Esposito’s opening statement in a hearing entitled, “Examining Fire Hazards: Lithium-Ion Batteries and Other Threats to Fire Safety.”

As prepared for delivery:

I want to begin by thanking our witnesses for testifying before the Emergency Management and Technology Subcommittee. In today’s hearing, we will examine the fire hazards that fire departments across the country are confronting daily, and more specifically, the threat that lithium-ion batteries pose to fire safety. We look forward to hearing from each of you on this important topic.

Every day, our Nation’s firefighters embody the best of civil service. In fact, with over 70% of our Nation’s firefighters serving as volunteers, they demonstrate true selflessness, compassion, and courage. Regardless of the danger they may face, firefighters choose to put their communities first when they put on their uniforms each day.

As the former Chief of the Island Park Fire Department, I know first-hand that successful emergency management requires collaboration and teamwork with stakeholders at every level of government to be able to prepare for, protect against, and respond to natural or man-made disasters. As Members of this subcommittee, we also have a role to play in supporting our Nation’s firefighters and first responders.

In recent years, new technologies have come with new risks. Fire departments across the country have reported how the increasing use of lithium-ion batteries has diminished fire safety in major U.S. cities. In fact, injuries caused by lithium-ion battery fires involving electric (E) bikes or E-scooters have increased by 1,000% over the last five years in New York City.

In 2023, the FDNY responded to 267 lithium-ion battery fires which caused 150 injuries and 18 deaths. To illustrate this increasing trend, there were only 10 deaths associated with lithium-ion battery fires for the combined years of 2021 and 2022.

These batteries may be found in daily household items and cellphones, laptops, or power tools, as well. However, compared to smaller items with lithium-ion batteries, the power in E-scooters and E-bikes contains “around 50 times” that of a smartphone. As a result, an explosive and long-lasting fire can occur after overcharging, damage, overheating, or poor maintenance of the lithium-ion batteryin an E-bike or scooter.

In January 2023, 17 children were injured, and one was hospitalized, after an E-bike caused a fire in a building that housed a daycare in Queens, New York. In November 2023, an E-scooter caught fire in a Brooklyn home, killing a grandmother, her son, and her grandson, and injuring more than 12 others. With the increased use of E-scooters, E-bikes, electric vehicles, and mopeds, stories like these have become all too common. However, despite this increasing danger, New York City Mayor, Eric Adams, implemented budget cuts to the FDNY and reduced firefighting staff in 20 engine companies to accommodate the growing migrant crisis, and I am concerned about the state of New York City’s fire services.

Not only is manpower needed to immediately respond to these fires, extinguishing lithium-ion battery fires has proven difficult for fire services across the country. For instance, in 2021, after a Tesla caught fire following a crash in a Houston suburb, eight firefighters spent over seven hours and 28,000 gallons of water– “an amount the department normally uses in a month”- before the fire was fully extinguished. The reality is that some lithium-ion battery fires can reignite hours later- some even days later; and traditional fire extinguishing methods do not always work on them. The Biden Administration has sought to incentivize more EV purchases through its $7,500 tax credit, however, we need to ensure that we fully understand the dangers or risks associated with high-voltage lithium-ion batteries, and the safest way for individuals, emergency managers, and firstresponders to handle any potential fires.

We have a duty to investigate how certain policies addressing the purchase, use,and maintenance of lithium-ion batteries impact emergency responders and fire safety. Americans should be aware of the risks associated with using electric vehicles (EV), scooters, and mopeds, and other everyday devices. They should also ensure that their purchase is from a reputable manufacturer that complies with U.S. safety standards.

Last week, the FDNY shut down an illegal lithium-ion battery operation in Queens, New York and confiscated hundreds of individual lithium-ion cells, 25 E-scooters, and 25 electric or gas mopeds. Federal, state, and local governments must take measures to prevent unsafe manufacturers from endangering the public with cheap lithium-ion batteries.

Lastly, as Members of Congress, we must ensure that firefighters and first responders have the protective gear, equipment, and training needed to respond to lithium-ion fires and other threats. The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), the National Fire Academy (NFA), the Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, and the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program all aim to strengthen and equip fire and emergency medical services throughout the Nation. As a former first responder, and Chairman of this subcommittee, I remain committed to supporting FEMA’s suite of preparedness grant programs, and am hopeful for a successful reauthorization of the fire grants later this year.

I look forward to hearing from each of our witnesses today on how to address these challenges and improve U.S. fire safety. Thank you.