Fire Chief has personal experience with fire-starting battery charger
By Robin Scott
Dalhart Fire Chief Curtis Brown recently became aware of the potential dangers of battery chargers when a battery charger for his digital camera caught fire in his home. The fire occurred while Chief Brown was resting from an all night fire. The fire was caught early, but the possibility of fires occurring in homes within the area led him to comment about the subject.
Even before the smoke detector sounded at Chief Brown’s home, his cat became agitated, running back and forth trying to gain his attention. Tired from having been on the scene of a fire throughout the night, Brown stated he ignored his cat’s odd behavior. Finally, the cat couldn’t be consoled, so Brown got up to find out what was causing the cat to act so strangely. That’s when he learned a fire was burning in his living room. After putting the fire out, he discovered its source. The battery in the charger to his digital camera had exploded and caught fire.
As it turns out, the circuit boards of battery chargers may overheat and cause the battery to over charge and explode, which poses the fire hazard. To protect against the potential hazard, consumers should follow a few safety tips. One not so obvious tip is to never allow the battery charger to remain plugged in and in use overnight, regardless of what the operator’s manual suggests. Most people plug a charger in and leave it, with or without a battery, and leaving a battery charging overnight is not only commonplace, but also what most people believe they are “supposed” to do.
The more appropriate and safer way to charge a battery is only when it may be monitored. The time necessary to recharge the battery is generally about an hour. The battery should thus only be placed into the charger when it may be monitored, and then unplugged as soon as the charge is complete.
Other tips include placing the charger on a switched power strip or placing the charger on an interval timer. Place the charger near a smoke detector. If a fire breaks out the detector may provide the earliest possible warning. Check the U. S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website for recalls of either the batteries or the charger. Pay attention to the sound a charger makes when in use. If a charger begins to “sing” or “whine” stop using it altogether. Even new chargers may overheat and explode, so assuming it is safe to use because it just came out of the box is incorrect.
A large number of consumers buy spare batteries that are always left on the charger. When the battery in use goes “dead” it gets placed on the charger and the fully charged battery then gets used. As convenient as that is, it may not be worth the risk of the potential fire hazard. The short duration of time required to charge batteries indicates that leaving them in a plugged-in charger is not necessary. Often the only time a battery requires a lengthy charge is the first time it is charged, but never again afterward.
Chief Brown asks that area residents check items in their homes to determine if things are unnecessarily plugged into outlets. All items that are plugged into electrical outlets have the potential to start a fire or malfunction. He stated, “Rather than take the chance, just unplug chargers and other items while not in use, and use them when you are able to keep an eye on them.” Chief Brown noted that he was the last person he ever expected to have a fire in his home and he uses safety measures to prevent fires. Discovering his own vulnerability made him determined to warn others.
For more information on fire safety, visit the National Fire Prevention Association at www.nfpa.org or contact the Dalhart Fire Department at 244.5454.