José A. Alvarado Jr.

Photographer
 
Location: New York City, New York
Nationality: Puerto Rican American
Biography: José A. Alvarado Jr. is a Puerto Rican photographer dedicated to documenting class inequality, civic engagement, and contemporary issues in Puerto Rico and New York City. He works primarily in long-form storytelling, using visual imagery... MORE
Media
for The New York Times: A Crisis Zone for E-Bike Battery Fires
josé a. alvarado jr.
Jul 7, 2023
Location: New York, New York
Summary
New York City pushes for safety oversight of a danger to which it’s especially at risk.
                                   
    
His girlfriend told him not to buy the electric scooter.                    

But Alfonso Villa Muñoz was intrigued. He was working in a Brooklyn bodega last August when a delivery man said he knew someone selling one for $700. Mr. Muñoz said yes.                    

The scooter was cherry red with the number 7 on the front. Under the seat was an ex- tra-large lithium-ion battery. When it needed charging, Mr. Muñoz would remove the battery from the scooter and use both hands to lug it up to the couple’s third-floor apartment in College Point, Queens.                    

A month later, the battery exploded in the living room, unleashing flames that engulfed the apartment. Mr. Muñoz screamed for their 8-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who was asleep. He could not breach the wall of black smoke to get to her. Stephanie died from smoke inhalation.                    
“It’s like you bring in death and destruction to your house, and not only to you, to everybody around you,” said Mr. Muñoz, 36, pulling off his glasses to wipe away tears. “You could lose everything.”                    

E-bikes and e-scooters have flooded New York City’s streets in recent years, embraced by delivery workers and commuters as an economical and efficient way to get around. But even as the devices have grown in popularity to become nearly ubiquitous, the batteries inside them have made the city an epicenter for a new kind of ferocious and fast-moving fire.                    

These fires are “uniquely dangerous,” warned Laura Kavanagh, the city’s fire commissioner. With little or no warning, the batteries can ignite, leaving seconds for people to escape. In just three years, lithium battery fires have surpassed blazes started by cooking and smoking and tied electrical fires for major causes of fatal fires in the city.                    

Reasons for the uptick of these fires are myriad. They include a lack of regulation and safety testing for individually owned devices, hazardous charging practices (like using mismatched equipment or over-charging), and a lack of secure charging ar- eas in a population-dense city with numerous residential buildings, where most fires start.        

Photographed for The New York Times, with words by Winnie Hu.                           
    
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for The New York Times: A Crisis Zone for E-Bike Battery Fires by José A. Alvarado Jr.
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