Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Battery concussion? The surprise connection

By Randy Narine   


Photo: Prathaan / AdobeStock

There is a surprising similarity between the impact of concussions on the brain and the consequences of abusing a battery. Both scenarios involve damaging the connections vital for proper function. In this article, I’ll explore this intriguing comparison and shed light on the importance of brain connectivity and battery care.


A concussion occurs when the human body is impacted or has a rapid acceleration or deceleration, and the brain shifts and impacts the interior of the skull. Concussive battery abuse is the same mechanism.

When the battery enclosure or the device rapidly accelerates or decelerates, or has a sudden or repeated impact, the lithium-ion cells and components displace and may impact the interior of the enclosure or other obstructions. This repetitive or singular significant impact can result in subtle physical abuse which generates a slow developing thermal event. The less sophisticated the device and the design, the more probability there is that the batteries, busbars and wiring are loosely secured with greater allowances for shifting and movement.

Concussive abuse is underlying momentum-based and blunt force physical abuse to the batteries and components that may go undetected. Concussive abuse is hard to identify as causation when an event occurs. Electric vehicles, Ebikes and Escooters which have had a significant mechanism of injury or have been operated in aggressive manners should be suspect for concussive abuse.  This may present in the early stages as electrical imbalance but can eventually lead to a thermal event.


What is thermal runaway?

Thermal runaway is a term for an occurrence that sees one exothermal process within a battery lead to other processes that can cause extreme and sudden increases in temperature. With electric vehicles, this can mean a battery fire, and it’s something fire services need to educate electric vehicle owners about.

The number one suspect is typically the charging cord, or irresponsible overcharging or storage of the battery. However, fire services are seeing a new cause. Concern levels should be high because these fires create smoke and fumes that are incredibly dangerous for firefighters, and yet they are not being discussed by the general public.

The city of Paris, France introduced legislation in 2018 to allow e-scooter companies to set up across the city. Scooters were rentable for about $10 a day and were seen as a transportation option that may eventually replace cars inside the city. However, in April 2024, Parisian voters in a referendum vote asked their elected officials – with a near 90 percent majority – to ban the scooters from the city. E-scooters were reportedly responsible for more than 400 accidents in a single calendar year, and three fatalities. The severity of the accidents could result in dangerous fires, and if one firefighter has their life impacted by one incident, there is a strong reason for increased education.

How do these fires start?

Today, three things are being seen as the major causes of thermal runaway:

  1. Mechanical abuse: Any type of physical abuse, like puncturing the battery or putting pressure on it.
  2. Electrical abuse: Over-charging, completely discharging the battery, not using the correct charging device, etc.
  3. Thermal abuse: External temperatures.

For most vehicles, storage and modes of charging should be outlined explicitly for users in the instruction manual – but sometimes these come up short on the potential dangers. More than this, the vehicles are being driven in new ways, which can create new battery concussions.

If something punctures the casing and the battery, thermal runaway can occur and a fire could ignite. Therefore, if the operator of the e-bike or scooter happens to cause a fracture or puncture of the battery casing, the same can result.

But fractures are not the only danger. As we’ve learned with concussions of our heads, the injuries we can’t see can sometimes be worse. Here, we must educate our communities about the operation of an e-scooter. As humans become used to two-wheel vehicles, many will become more daring on them. From jumping curbs to riding the rail, or skidding across curbs to even just doing jumps themselves, the rider is putting themselves in danger.

The average e-scooter is not designed to absorb the impact of a jump with a rider. The scooter itself will flex in the middle, bending the casing of the battery pack and eventually causing a rupture. Tricks that impact the bottom, such as riding rails, or skipping curves, can cause direct contact that can crack the housing around the battery. This can cause a concussion.

These e-scooters are not only becoming more popular to own but also to rent. That was the Paris model. While being incredibly convenient, these scooters are often not well maintained, or maintained to a standard that allows the rider to abuse them, even a little. Renters are also not too worried about how they drive these vehicles, and accidents may occur.

There is something to be said about e-bikes and why we’re not seeing similar issues with them. E-bikes have a shock system, and when a rider jumps and lands with a basic bicycle, the battery is typically on the bar and attached to the frame, not the fixed tires. So the battery itself is not constantly being flexed.

The odds of a bike going into thermal runaway are a lot less than an e-scooter simply because with an e-bike, the battery isn’t in such a compromising position.

A lesson for the fire service

Fire services need to be ready for these potentially dangerous fires and need to have the proper equipment and training in place to combat these occurrences. There has been a recent push for municipal bylaws to regulate, and appropriate suppression systems for when action is needed.

Whatever your thoughts are on e-bikes or e-scooters, the technology is here and it is growing. The fires produced by these technologies create harmful gasses that can severely injure firefighters, some immediately upon inhalation. It is on us as fire professionals to educate the public about the proper care for these batteries, and educate ourselves on how to mitigate and suppress the occasional worst-case scenario.

We know, as members of the fire service, that education reduces incidents more than our suppression systems ever will. We need to continue to be proactive, rather than simply reactive.

With education, we will reduce that danger.

Randy Narine has been in the fire service for 10 years and is a member of the OPFFA, and is part of the Energy Security Agency.

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