Eric Adams ran for office on a public-safety platform two years ago.
His crime record is mixed, but public safety isn’t just crime: E-bike and e-scooter battery-fire deaths are reaching “staggering” levels, his fire commissioner says.
So it’s not good the unrelated corruption suspicions swirling around the mayor involve . . . pressuring the FDNY to ignore safety rules, rules that inconvenienced donors and their friends.
The familiar story unfolded again last week: A powerful fire obliterated a Brooklyn brownstone.
Three people from three generations of the West family, ages 33 to 81, perished.
As has become common over three years, the cause was a battery charging an e-scooter, blocking exits.
So far, 17 of this year’s 93 fire deaths are from such batteries.
Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh calls it “devastating.”
Twenty-seven New Yorkers have died in these fires since 2021, the year after the city legalized e-bikes and similar devices. (No one had ever died in such a fire before.)
We’ve quickly reversed decades of progress. Between 2014 and 2020, the average number of annual civilian fire deaths was 66, including a low of 43 in 2017, the smallest number in a century.
Last year, though, fire deaths, at 102, exceeded 100 for the first time in 19 years, and we’ll likely top 100 deaths this year, too.
This represents a 51% increase, relative to the average before e-bikes became ubiquitous.
As the FDNY notes, e-battery fire deaths exceed electrical fire deaths.
So what’s the city doing?
Nothing that has yielded any practical results.
The City Council banned the sale of e-batteries that don’t meet Underwriters Lab-type safety standards — a law it has no way of enforcing (council members don’t want police to seize illegal batteries from cyclists).
The council also instructed the FDNY and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to launch an education campaign.
And it directed the mayor to set up a trade-in program, whereby e-battery owners can swap uncertified batteries for certified ones, at city expense — but Adams hasn’t set it up.
The only way to prevent more deaths is for the FDNY to call for a ban on residential e-battery storage and charging, just as it bans home storage of gasoline and other flammable or hazardous materials.
Current law, enacted in the de Blasio administration’s final weeks, purposely exempts the storage and charging of “not more than five” such devices in a home.
And it’s time for the FDNY to push for enforcement of various fire-code laws that already ban hazardous commercial-industrial activity in homes.
Most of the city’s e-bikes and e-scooters are used for delivering food — and delivery apps, like Uber Eats, Grubhub and DoorDash, should be responsible for storing, maintaining and charging their workers’ equipment at commercial-industrial sites.
Only after a ban is it time to figure out any exemptions: for example, the storage of one UL-certified battery for a personal bicycle, registered with the local FDNY firehouse and, if applicable, with the property owner’s landlord.
But Adams remains passive on the e-bike inferno crisis.
His fire commissioner, Kavanagh, blames the food-delivery apps and sellers of unregulated batteries, saying they have “blood on their hands” — even though the city is in the position to better regulate these industries, by cutting off their markets.
Does she think they are going to regulate themselves?
This might be coincidence.
Except Adams is already engulfed in a scandal over putting pressure on the FDNY to ignore critical safety rules in fast-tracking occupancy permits for a new building for the Turkish consulate when he was borough president and soon-to-be-mayor in 2021.
This pressure just so happened to help Adams’ Turkish-related financial supporters.
In his first year as mayor, Adams also wanted the Department of Buildings — historically perceived, not incorrectly, by real-estate developers as being more malleable to pressure than the FDNY — to take over fire-inspection duties.
So Adams is already mixed up in a scandal over suspicion of sacrificing public safety for donor convenience — when a different donor has a stake in maintaining the new business as usual on e-bike deliveries, the city’s biggest noncrime public-safety crisis.
Well, maybe a different type of crime.
No wonder the city continues to burn.
Nicole Gelinas is a contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal.