Fire at Sunset Park e-bike store displaces 2 families as pols fight to regulate lithium-ion batteries

e-bike store in sunset park after fire
A fire destroyed an e-bike store on 7th Avenue on Saturday and displaced tenants living in apartments above the shop.
Photo by Adam Daly

A fire broke out on the first floor of an e-bike store in Sunset Park on Saturday, displacing two families who lived on the floors above.

The New York City Fire Department responded to Saturday’s fire at 5422 7th Ave. at about 5:50 a.m. and battled for over an hour to bring the fire under control. Two firefighters and one resident suffered minor injuries during the fire, according to the FDNY. 

Hazmat Company 1 was requested to remove several e-bike batteries from the premises, but the cause of the blaze is still currently under investigation, according to the fire department.

The sixteen residents displaced by the fire are being housed by the Red Cross, according to Assembly Member Lester Chang, who told Brooklyn Paper that the apartments above the store “could be habitable again soon” after suffering minor smoke and water damage.

“Sadly, this is becoming a pattern in our community, with these fires not only destroying businesses but also homes above them. We need to do something here to keep our community safer,” said Chang.

firefighters e-bike fire lithium battery
Hazmat Company 1 was called to remove e-bike batteries after a fire at a Cypress Hills apartment fire earlier this month. E-bike batteries have caused hundreds of fires in New York City over the last four years. File photo by Lloyd Mitchell

The rechargeable batteries have contributed to more than 400 fires over the last four years, resulting in more than 300 injuries, 12 deaths, and damage to more than 320 structures across the city, according to the FDNY. Earlier this month, two e-bikes caught fire in the lobby of a Cypress Hills apartment building — an incident that also required intervention from the Hazmat squad. Last summer, a three-alarm fire at a different e-bike store in Sunset Park injured ten people. 

There has been a continued push to address the dangers around lithium-ion batteries due to the scores of deadly fires they have sparked across the city when over-charged. FDNY officials told the City Council Transportation Committee Monday the uptick in fires may be due low-quality batteries being overused and overcharged. The FDNY recommends only purchasing batteries that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory.

Laura Hahn, general manager of Uber Eats, noted in a recent op-ed that many of the company’s delivery workers still own and use older e-bike models with fire-prone batteries that they purchased prior to the legalization of e-bikes in November 2020, adding that the underground, unregulated market for micro-mobility devices, batteries and other accessories continues to thrive due to the the cheaper price point. 

“E-bikes are here to stay,” Council Member Jennifer Gutiérrez said during the committee hearing, adding that the popularity and importance of micro-mobility cannot be ignored.

Gutiérrez proposed the creation of a taskforce to study the feasibility of building charging stations for e-bikes around the city to reduce the risk of fire connected to the electric batteries powering them.

“We have to keep pushing the city to do more and to think critically about how to keep New Yorkers safe,” she said of the proposed charging points, which would be exclusive to food delivery riders. 

Gutiérrez’s proposal, which does not have a set vote date yet, comes as the city and the federal government move to regulate lithium-ion batteries.

e-bike battery press conference
Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have introduced legislation that would regulate e-bike batteries on the federal level. Photo courtesy of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand/Twitter

The Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act would regulate lithium-ion batteries to ensure that only properly maintained batteries will be on the market, preventing explosions. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission would also be given more power to implement safety measures on such batteries via the legislation, according to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who held a press conference on the proposed bill on Sunday.

Lifting a lithium-ion battery for the press, Schumer said: “This is one of these batteries. They’re heavy. They’re important. They catch on fire. That’s the problem. And if you’re riding on a scooter or a bike, or even have it stored in your home, and this catches on fire, you are in big, big trouble.”