The New York City Fire Department has discovered the cause of a deadly three-alarm blaze that killed three people living in a Crown Heights brownstone in Brooklyn on Sunday, Nov. 12.
Authorities linked the fire to the combustion of scooters being powered by cheap, unsafe lithium-ion batteries that don’t meet safety standards.
The family members are bereaved and baffled, seeking answers as to why these dangerous batteries are on the market and how the vendors do not make consumers aware of their hazards.
Matriarch Albertha West, 81, her son Mike West, 58, and her grandson, Jamiyl West, 33, lost their lives in the devastating fire. Authorities reported that the fire originated on the bottom floor of their home around 4:30 a.m. Despite the efforts of first responders who rushed them to Kings County Hospital, the lives of the victims could not be saved.
According to a family friend, Tyshawn Johnson, 24, Jamiyl used chargers similar to the battery identified by the FDNY as the source of the fire to charge the electronic bikes he used for delivery jobs.
“He used the e-bikes for deliveries just like how everybody else used the e-bikes,” said Johnson during an interview with the New York Daily News. “He charged them up at night so he could have a full battery in the morning. But he doesn’t know the battery’s not good, because regular people, they don’t know. Who would think of anything?”
At this point, it remains unclear who owned the battery responsible for the tragic incident. Still, authorities confirmed an e-bike was charging in the doorway and staircase of a Brooklyn brownstone before it exploded.
“It’s very common with these e-bike devices where there’s no time to get out. They start to smolder, and within 20-30 seconds, they erupt into flames,” FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens said, according to CNN.
Even more tragic, according to the family, was that three days before the fire, one of Ms. Albertha’s other sons, Henry West, died of a heart attack. The senior’s granddaughter, Trinece Ward, 33, said the family is trying to stay strong and push through all of the trauma they’ve experienced over the past week.
“Right now, we’re still trying to figure it out,” she said when talking about the death of her uncle, adding, “We’re trying to get through it together. The family spent the night out yesterday. We went to my Aunt Julia’s house and talked about everything.”
The family talked about the upcoming holiday season and what it would be like without Ms. Albertha, whom she called “a sweetheart.”
“She was definitely the matriarch,” Ward remembered. “It’s hard now because we don’t want to have Thanksgiving because it would’ve been at the house. She was the best cook.”
Official reports indicate that the city has witnessed a concerning total of 238 fires associated with lithium-ion batteries, and disturbingly, 17 of these fires have been linked to the batteries in the year 2023 alone.
In the Crown Heights blaze, in addition to the three generations of Wests losing their lives, 14 others were injured.
FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh equated the batteries to “ticking time bombs” in unsuspecting citizens’ homes.
“There is blood on the hands of this private industry- both the online retailers who continue to sell these illegal devices to this day– and the food delivery apps who continue to think that this problem will solve itself,” Kavanagh explained at a news conference on Monday outside of the charred West home.
She also believes food delivery companies like Uber Eats and Grubhub should be scrutinized for their role in exacerbating the crisis. Despite law enforcement trying to crack down on them, their lucrative underground economy endures, and this black market keeps peddling the sale of low-cost and hazardous batteries, bikes, and scooters.
“They [the batteries] explode- and the second they explode, there may be so much fire at that moment, you can’t get out,” she added.
During a news conference, she called on companies like Amazon and Walmart to limit the sale of hazardous batteries, emphasizing the ongoing concern with online retailers offering batteries that fail to meet safety standards. The commissioner said, “Private industry can take action that would immediately save lives.”