FDNY officials said Monday the cause of a three-alarm fire in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, that killed three family members across three generations Sunday was a lithium-ion battery.
“This was a difficult and dangerous fire that drew a massive response from our members and seriously injured one of our firefighters,” FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said at the scene of the fire Monday afternoon. “Our fire marshals have completed their investigation, and they’ve determined the cause of this fire is a lithium-ion battery.”
Kavanagh said 17 people have now died this year because of fires caused by the batteries, which power popular electric vehicles, including e-scooters and -bikes. She called that number “staggering and devastating” and said the city was on track to have more than 100 fire deaths in 2023, “an extraordinary number not seen in decades.”
“There is blood on the hands of private industry, both from the online retailers who continue to sell these illegal devices to this day and from the food delivery apps that think this problem will solve itself,” Kavanagh added. “These illegal, uncertified devices are ticking timebombs.”
Albertha West, 81, her son Michael West, 58, and her grandson Jamiyl West, 33, all died at Kings County Hospital after the early Sunday fire in Crown Heights engulfed their brownstone on Albany Avenue near Sterling Place, police said.
According to the FDNY, the fire broke out on the ground floor of the building, but it was too early in the investigation to tell whether the battery in question was charging when the fire started and whether it was uncertified. “It’s extensively damaged,” Kavanagh noted, adding that the battery was for a “scooter of some kind.”
Chief Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn said investigators were told the scooter belonged to one of the deceased occupants but he did not specify whom, citing the ongoing inquiry. He said firefighters recovered two scooters from the area where the fire broke out.
FDNY officials said that when firefighters arrived at the scene, flames were coming out of all the windows and the front door of the house. They stretched hose lines into each floor and went to the rear of the property, where they used a ladder to access the third floor, but it was already too late to save the three victims who perished.
The firefighter who was injured while responding to the fire was recovering at home, according to Kavanagh.
Relatives and neighbors of the Wests told Gothamist they were devastated by the news and that the family was a fixture in the community. Six other residents of the building and eight neighbors were treated for injuries at the scene, including smoke inhalation, according to FDNY officials.
The West family had recently gathered at the house to celebrate Albertha’s 81st birthday, her son Herbert West said. He described the house as “the foundation of a family, the home base” for decades.
Kavanagh said the FDNY inspects lithium-ion batteries in response to complaints, and urged New Yorkers to report unregulated batteries to 311. She said to ensure fire safety, residents should avoid blocking their home exits, charging the batteries overnight, and plugging them into extension cords.
“We owe it to the West family to do everything we can to make sure we do not lose one more New Yorker to these devices,” she said.