Calvert Dept. of Public Safety Delivers Briefing on Lithium Ion Batteries

Earlier this week, the Calvert County Department of Public Safety briefed its Commissioners on the challenges with lithium-ion battery fires. 

seal of Calvert County MarylandLong-time readers of Conduit Street will know that lithium-ion battery fires are a considerable concern for county public safety professionals. As the transition toward electrification intensifies, Maryland will become increasingly reliant on a whole host of energy storage technologies. While this is a necessary step to help blunt the worst effects of climate change, it is important to recognize and prepare for new challenges this technology will bring.

Briefing Highlights

Lithium-ion batteries are found nearly everywhere in Maryland. The primary benefits are two-fold: they are inexpensive and offer higher power density. In order to achieve these benefits, the batteries rely on a mixture of highly toxic and flammable chemicals. While extraordinarily rare, when a battery does combust, the fire is levels of magnitude more toxic and intense than traditional fires. This has led many public safety leaders to feel insufficiently prepared to respond to these incidents and has heralded calls for additional resources for first responders.

According to a memo from the Calvert Dept. of Public Safety to the Calvert Commissioners: 


Lithium-ion batteries pose a significant risk in fire situations due to their potential to release harmful chemicals, such as hydrogen fluoride and carbon monoxide when exposed to heat. The risk associated with lithium-ion batteries is further compounded by the fact that they are often found in consumer products such as laptops, smartphones, and electric vehicles, which are widely used in our daily lives. Firefighters need to be equipped with proper training, tools and safety gear to handle incidents involving lithium-ion batteries. . . .

Given the increasing use of lithium-ion batteries in our daily lives and the potential risks they pose in fire situations, it is imperative that appropriate measures are taken to ensure the safety of both firefighters and the public. We recommend training and education on the safe handling of lithium-ion batteries and exploring the possibility of procuring specialized equipment to deal with incidents involving these batteries. We appreciate the Board’s attention to this important matter.

Broader Discussion  

During the 2023 legislative session, similar issues were raised. HB1099 & HB1100 were two bills targeting the use of lithium-ion batteries in solar facilities. The bills mandated requirements for fire suppression systems and created grants to help local fire departments upgrade equipment and modernize training. Several counties noted that lithium-ion batteries may soon start popping up in major urban centers, providing backup or evening power for large buildings. MACo supported both pieces of legislation with amendments – citing that resources to fight lithium-ion battery fires should be directed more broadly and not tied to their use in solar. Unfortunately, neither bill made it out of committee, but it can be anticipated there will be similar legislation in the future.

Watch the full briefing (starting at 26:21).