IAFC President highlights lithium-ion battery fire hazards, calls for legislative action

February 16, 2024

Fire Chief John S. Butler raises urgent call to address fire risks of lithium-ion batteries

In a significant move to combat the growing threat posed by lithium-ion batteries, Fire Chief John S. Butler, President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), testified before the Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology of the Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs.

Chief Butler emphasized the urgent need to address the fire hazards associated with lithium-ion batteries, highlighting a critical gap in the nation’s preparedness to tackle such fires.

“America’s fire and emergency service is approximately five years behind in addressing the complex challenges presented by lithium-ion batteries,” Butler remarked, underscoring the necessity for immediate federal assistance to enhance the capabilities of local fire departments in responding to these incidents.

Challenges and solutions for lithium-ion battery incidents

Lithium-ion batteries, which power a wide array of devices from electric vehicles to mobile phones, have been linked to an increasing number of fire incidents.

These fires pose risks to public safety and present unique challenges to fire and emergency services due to their intensity, duration, and the toxic smoke produced.

Chief Butler stressed the importance of better data collection on lithium-ion battery fires, the development of codes and standards to prevent faulty batteries from entering communities, training for fire departments, and increased public education on safe handling and storage of devices powered by these batteries.

Legislative action and the way forward

Highlighting the need for swift legislative action, Chief Butler called for the passage of the Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act and the Fire Grants and Safety Act.

These measures aim to set safety standards and ensure the availability of resources for local fire departments to combat lithium-ion battery fires effectively.

“The sooner Congress acts, the faster we can start to prevent unsafe lithium-ion batteries from being on America’s streets and in American homes,” Butler emphasized.

Concluding his testimony, Butler stressed the importance of balancing the promise of a greener, cleaner society with lithium-ion technology against the imperative to protect communities from associated fire risks through legislation, education, and improved emergency response capabilities.

FSJA Comment

The testimony of Chief Butler before the Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology underscores a pivotal moment in the ongoing discourse surrounding lithium-ion battery safety.

As the prevalence of lithium-ion batteries continues to rise, paralleled by an uptick in related fire incidents, the call for comprehensive legislative and preventive measures has never been more pressing.

Butler’s insights not only shed light on the existing gaps in emergency response capabilities but also chart a course towards mitigating these risks through collaborative efforts involving legislation, education, and technological innovation.

This approach embodies a proactive stance towards ensuring public safety while fostering the sustainable adoption of lithium-ion battery technology.

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