Lithium batteries have become increasingly prevalent in our modern lives, powering a wide range of devices from smartphones to electric vehicles. However, these batteries also pose unique challenges and hazards, making them an important focus for fire investigators. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the key considerations and potential risks associated with lithium batteries. By understanding the characteristics of these batteries, the fire service can effectively investigate incidents involving lithium battery fires and enhance public safety.

Overview of Lithium Batteries: Understanding the Technology

Lithium batteries are rechargeable energy storage devices that utilize lithium ions to facilitate the flow of electricity. They are lightweight, compact, and have high energy density, making them popular for portable electronics and electric vehicles. However, they also contain flammable electrolytes and have the potential to release large amounts of energy in the event of a thermal runaway (National Fire Protection Association, NFPA 921, 2021 edition, p. 21-9). This understanding of the technology is crucial for fire investigators to comprehend the hazards involved.

Common Incidents and Hazards: Insights from the Fire Service

The fire service has observed various incidents and hazards related to lithium batteries. For example, thermal runaway—a self-sustaining, uncontrolled increase in temperature—can occur due to internal or external factors, resulting in intense heat generation and potential fire spread. Additionally, incidents involving damaged or improperly handled batteries during charging, transportation, or disposal have been reported (National Association of State Fire Marshals, “Lithium-Ion Batteries: Guidance Document,” p. 6). These real-world examples highlight the importance of understanding and addressing the risks associated with lithium batteries.

Fire Investigation Considerations: Uncovering the Cause

When investigating lithium battery fires, fire investigators should consider specific factors. The preservation of evidence is crucial, as it can provide valuable insights into the cause of the incident. This includes identifying the battery type, documenting any visible damage or signs of thermal runaway, and collecting data from the battery management system, if available (NFPA 921, 2021 edition, p. 21-10). Additionally, interviewing witnesses or individuals involved in the incident can help establish a timeline and provide important context.

Safety Precautions: Mitigating Risks

Due to the potential hazards associated with lithium batteries, it is crucial for fire investigators to prioritize safety throughout the investigation process. This includes wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect against potential exposure to toxic fumes, using specialized tools and techniques for safe evidence collection, and ensuring proper storage and disposal of damaged or recovered batteries (National Fire Protection Association, NFPA 400, 2020 edition, p. 9-11). By adhering to safety protocols, investigators can minimize risks and ensure the well-being of themselves and others.

Collaboration and Training: Strengthening Fire Investigation Capabilities

To enhance the capabilities of fire investigators in dealing with lithium battery incidents, collaboration and ongoing training are essential. Collaboration with manufacturers, engineers, and other experts in the field can provide valuable insights into the design, behavior, and potential failure modes of lithium batteries. Additionally, continuous training programs and professional development opportunities focused on lithium battery technology and fire investigation techniques can keep investigators updated on the latest advancements and best practices.


Lithium batteries present unique challenges and hazards for fire investigators. By understanding the technology, recognizing common incidents and hazards, and implementing thorough investigation protocols, the fire service can effectively respond to incidents involving lithium battery fires. Adhering to the guidelines outlined in NFPA 921 (2021 edition) and other credible sources, such as the National Association of State Fire Marshals’ “Lithium-Ion Batteries: Guidance Document,” enables investigators to uncover the cause of these incidents, enhance public safety, and contribute to the advancement of fire investigation practices.




National Fire Protection Association, NFPA 921, 2021 edition
National Association of State Fire Marshals, “Lithium-Ion Batteries: Guidance Document”
National Fire Protection Association, NFPA 400, 2020 edition


Additional Reading:

Beware lithium-ion battery fires

CNN: Lithium-ion battery fires are happening more often. Here’s how to prevent them

Battery Fire Safety, US Fire Administration