3 Principles to Fight a Lithium Battery Device Fire
US FAA promoted a video recently that lays out three principles for fighting fires involving portable electronic devices containing lithium batteries and shows as device batteries enter thermal runaway, flare, burn, smoke and vent gas under controlled testing conditions.
While the video is intended for flight crews who may encounter a device fire on board an aircraft, the principles in it could prove useful for anyone faced with a fire involving a mobile phone, tablet, or laptop in the workplace or at home.
Watch FAA's video here:
More lithium battery-related videos are posted to FAA's YouTube channel.
Principles for Lithium Battery Device Fires from FAA
FAA's lithium battery firefighting tips are intended for on board flight crew who may need to address a fire involving a portable electronic device on board a plane. The basics shared here, though, could be useful when faced with a device fire in any location.
The video above is based on more detailed recommendations FAA published in an Advisory Circular in March 2023, Firefighting of General and High-Energy In-Flight Fires (AC 120-80B).
Quick, aggressive action is key.
- Take immediate action to determine the source of hot spots, smoke, and/or flames. The aircraft crew (or emergency responders generally) should quickly assess the situation, get to the fire, and attack it with all available resources.
Use a fire extinguisher to remove any flames.
- When one cell in a lithium battery enters thermal runaway, it generates heat that causes other cells to overheat and enter thermal runaway too. Because the cells in a battery may ignite in a series, device fires can flare multiple times as each cell discharges its contents and flammable gases. Extinguishing flames quickly can prevent propagation to other cells.
- Cool the device to room temperature by pouring water on it (or use any non-alcoholic liquid you have on hand). When possible, direct liquid into any openings in the device—ports, jacks, drives, etc.—to cool the device faster and lower the risk of more fire.
* Important: Using Water or Liquid
For lithium battery fires on airplanes, where time and resources are extremely limited, dousing the device with water is a way to quickly cool it and prevent the incident from continuing.
For lithium battery fires in transportation, in the workplace, or at home, using water this way is not always recommended. The lithium-metal in batteries or single cells that power very small devices is water-reactive. The Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) Guide 138 covers lithium-metal batteries and clearly states that in the event of a fire or explosion: "DO NOT USE WATER OR FOAM."
ERG Guide 147 (for lithium-ion batteries) recommends dry chemical, CO2, water, or foam for a small fire involving a lithium-ion battery. For a large fire, water spray or regular foam are recommended.
Lithium battery incidents on aircraft involving smoke, fire, or extreme heat hit a high water mark in 2022, with 72 total cases recorded by FAA. Of those, all but ten involved personal devices carried on board by passengers (or crew).
Can you guess what type of device was responsible for the most incidents on aircraft in 2022?
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