ANN ARBOR, Mich. – A fire started by an electric wheelchair battery has hospitalized two senior citizens in Ann Arbor.
“Very, very lucky,” said Fire Chief Mike Kennedy. “This easily could’ve been a double fatal fire because they were both very close to where this was at.”
The electric wheelchair caught fire inside the apartment before firefighters rescued them. The real concern for Kennedy is that the fire started in a charging lithium-ion battery in the chair.
“So this is the battery cell that has these batteries in it, so basically, all lithium-ion batteries use these lithium-ion cells,” Kennedy said. “And this had what’s called a thermal runaway. When these take off, it has explosive gas and you can see what it did to the metal. Basically, it created a jet of flame that set the chair on fire and also set the apartment on fire.”
Even after the fire, the department has to store the batteries carefully in protective polymer and inside a $300 bucket.
“The issue with these batteries is they can continue to heat up and run away for up to several days later,” Kennedy said. “Tomorrow, it can go off again. They’re finding that up to 48 hours later, these can still go off again.”
The lithium-ion battery issue isn’t new, and it’s not going away.
“It’s huge,” Kennedy said. “It’s happening all across the country. New York has had several fires because of it. But a lot has been e-scooters and e-bikes; This is one of the first ones that I’ve heard of an electronic wheelchair.”
Kennedy is concerned, especially for college students, when it comes to scooters.
“We’re trying to warn people if you’re charging it make sure people are awake and it’s not in an exit path in case something takes off,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy says there is about $200,000 in damage at the apartment, and in addition to the two seniors in the hospital, several others have been displaced as well because of water damage.
The two seniors taken to the hospital were suffering from smoke inhalation. There’s no word on their condition.