Fighting Fires Caused By Lithium Type Batteries in Portable Electronic Devices




Fighting Fires Caused By Lithium Type Batteries in Portable Electronic Devices

By Mike Mitchell


Recommend procedures for fighting fires caused by lithium type batteries in portable electronic devices (PED). 

The two types of batteries commonly used to power consumer PEDs brought on aircraft are lithium batteries (disposable) and lithium-ion batteries (rechargeable). Both these types are capable of ignition and subsequent explosion due to overheating. Overheating results in thermal runaway, which can cause the release of either molten burning lithium or a flammable electrolyte. Once one cell in a battery pack goes into thermal runaway, it produces enough heat to cause adjacent cells to go into thermal runaway. The resulting fire can flare repeatedly as each cell ruptures and releases its contents. 

Based on testing by the Fire Safety Branch of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) William J. Hughes Technical Center, the following procedures are recommended for fighting a fire of a lithium-type-battery powered PED. The procedures consist of two phases: (1) extinguishing the fire, and (2) cooling the remaining cells to stop thermal runaway. 

(1) Utilize a Halon, Halon replacement or water extinguisher to extinguish the fire and prevent its spread to additional flammable materials.

(2) After extinguishing the fire, douse the device with water or other non-alcoholic liquids to cool the device and prevent additional battery cells from reaching thermal runaway. 

Do not attempt to pick up and move a smoking or burning device! Bodily injury may result. 

Do not cover the device or use ice to cool the device. Ice or other materials insulate the device, increasing the likelihood that additional battery cells will reach thermal runaway. 


The FAA has developed a training video to demonstrate effective techniques for fighting lithium-type battery fires. See the Video on Laptop Battery Fires at Click on the “Training Videos” link on the lower right of the page.

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