The fire hazard posed by electric bikes and scooters is receiving a lot of attention after reports of deaths and injuries across the United States.
Electric scooters for rent can be found all over Casper, Laramie and Cheyenne. Smartphone apps allow people to rent the scooters with their phones, ride them all around town and leave the scooters at their destinations.
They’re easy to use and popular in the warmer months.
The machines are powered by lithium-ion batteries. When these batteries catch fire, they produce their own oxygen, which makes the fires difficult to put out.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, from Jan. 1, 2021, until the end of November 2022, there were 208 fires reported from micro-mobility products, as the commission calls them, in 39 states.
These resulted in 19 deaths, and five of those were associated with e-scooters.
Should Wyoming riders be worried their scooters will burst into flames while they’re cruising down the sidewalk?
Cowboy State Daily reached out to the two e-scooter companies that operate in Wyoming — Bird and Lime.
While Bird didn’t return requests for comment, a spokesperson for Lime told Cowboy State Daily the company’s scooters are safe.
He said most of the battery fires reported around the country are the result of private users mishandling the batteries. Lime scooters run on batteries that are certified by United Laboratories, and they’re charged by trained staff.
“There's a considerable difference between privately owned electric vehicles and batteries causing fires around the country, and the professionally handled batteries that power Lime vehicles,” the spokesperson said. “Our warehouses are designed with safety in mind, top to bottom."
He said the fires from privately owned e-bikes and scooters are often secondhand and uncertified, and they’re charged in unsafe conditions.
“We share our expertise on safe battery handling with the cities we serve in order to help prevent people from making mistakes with their privately owned vehicles and batteries,” the spokesperson said.
When lithium-ion batteries catch fire, all a firefighter can do is move the flaming object to a safe spot and pour lots of water on it.
The Daily Caller reports there have been 108 lithium-ion battery fires in New York City between January and June, which resulted in 66 injuries and 13 deaths. Two people also died in 2022.
Andrew Dykshorn, deputy chief of Cheyenne Fire and Rescue, told Cowboy State Daily that the department has been considering the risk the growing use of e-bikes and scooters poses.
“As a regional response HAZMAT team, we noticed this trend [in e-bike and e-scooter fires] was occurring across the country, mostly on the East Coast,” Dykshorn said.
He said in many cases it happens when people are working on the batteries, breaking them down or trying to do “some interesting” things with them.
The department started holding full-day trainings on how to deal with these fires, should they show up in Cheyenne.
“Because it’s a different animal,” he said. “The fire just doesn’t go out.”
Dykshorn said it’s not just e-scooters and e-bikes. Electric vehicles also have lithium-ion batteries — really large ones — as do cellphones and laptops.
He said about two months ago, a lithium-ion battery ignited a fire in a Union Pacific rail car, so firefighters had a chance to test their training.
“Our crews did a great job on that,” Dykshorn said.
Curt Yanish, a firefighter in Sublette County, said much of their training has been with electric vehicles. With scooters and electric bikes, the same challenges present themselves, but it’s a much smaller battery and vehicle, he said.
With electric vehicles, you can’t just pull them out of a garage.
“We can easily pull a scooter out of a building,” Yanish said.
As far as the statements from the Lime spokesperson, Yanish said that United Laboratories does extensive testing for fire risks on electric equipment. The company also tests firefighting equipment.