In 2007, a major U.S. airline attempted to develop cabin lithium battery firefighting procedures by testing all reasonable alternatives. This included using devices such as fire bags and fire blankets. The testing confirmed that retrieving (or encasing) a lithium battery while in thermal runaway presented significant risk for injury to flight attendants. This testing was accomplished in a controlled, simulated cabin environment at the FAA's Cabin Fire Safety Research Center using actual lithium batteries forced into a runaway state. Due to the notable risks, testing was eventually completed by professional fire fighters wearing complete protective gear. To date, flight attendants do not have access to such advanced firefighting protective gear onboard commercial passenger aircraft. Therefore, a flight attendant’s first priority should (as directed by SAFO 09013) be to extinguish the flames using Halon, then immediately cool a lithium rechargeable type battery with a non-alcoholic liquid. Aqueous based agents (such as Firebane®) provide a more advanced extinguishing approach since it is rated for ALL types of battery fires. Water should NOT be used on lithium primary battery fires (non-rechargeable batteries).
Isolation devices may be beneficial for effectively managing a suspected electronic device by providing an efficient method of safely relocating/isolating devices prior to any thermal runaway. Additionally, they can be used to relocate (or stow) a battery/device after the thermal event has been mitigated -- SAFO 09013 directs that relocation should only be accomplished when conditions appear safe and the battery is completely free of all signs of thermal runaway.
Written by: Senior Flight Attendant with US Major Airline
1 February 2016