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September 22, 2023

Laura Kavanagh, Commissioner of the NYC Fire Department on how they are fighting battery fires

James Gross sits down with Laura Kavanagh, Commissioner of the NYC Fire Department on how they are fighting battery fires


Commissioner Laura Kavanagh of the NYC Fire Department discusses her rise through the ranks and her leadership in handling various emergencies. The focus of the conversation centers on the rising incidence of battery fires in the city, attributed to small electric vehicles like e-bikes, used predominantly by delivery workers. There is concern about the modifications and underground markets around these devices, emphasizing the need for regulation, inspection, and collaboration with other departments and agencies to address the immediate and future challenges presented by these battery fires. Highlights

  •  Laura Kavanagh, the 34th commissioner of the NYC Fire Department, has held various roles and oversaw the department’s response to several emergencies, including the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic and the Ebola outbreak in 2015.

  •  The FDNY reports a substantial rise in battery fires, recording 220 in 2022, up from 30 in 2019, and has noted the prevalence of these fires in small electric vehicles like e-bikes, scooters, and mopeds.

  •  Much attention is given to delivery workers as they are heavily reliant on these devices, which are often modified or altered to enhance performance or extend battery life, contributing to the risks and frequency of fires.

  •  Numerous issues arise from modifications, DIY conversion kits, and unregulated devices entering the market, creating unsafe conditions and usage that go beyond the original intended design of these electric vehicles.

  •  The challenge of inspecting and regulating these devices is intensified by the prevalence of underground markets and the inability to inspect private apartments where unsafe charging and alterations often occur.

  •  The FDNY is collaborating with the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to examine and address the public safety impacts, with considerations on future innovations, recycling, and regulations on electrification.

  •  While government agencies are receptive and showing progress, Kavanagh emphasizes the urgency in expediting regulations and legislative actions to address the growing and immediate risks associated with battery fires in small electric vehicles.

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