Harlem Fire That Killed One Blamed On Lithium Battery: FDNY Saves 3 Via Rope Roof Rescue

A 27-year-old male, later identified as journalist Fazil Kahn, could not be revived and died after being rushed to Harlem Hospital on Feb 23 after fire erupted in a six story building in Harlem. Fire officials blamed a lithium ion bike battery as the source of the fast spreading fire. Three people who were trapped on a fifth floor ledge were rescued by firefighters using a daring rope roof rescue.

| 26 Feb 2024 | 10:39

One person was dead from a fire caused by a lithium ion battery that sent smoke billowing through a six-story building on St. Nicholas Place in Harlem on Feb. 23.

The deceased was identified as 27-year-old journalist Fazi Khan who hailed from India. Seventeen others were injured. Three residents were rescued from a fifth floor ledge by firefighters using a daring procedure called a “life-saving rope evolution” to lower the victims one-by-one to the ground. FDNY chief of department John Hodgens said “We usually have one of these a year or two. This was three in one fire. A very heroic action.”

”We’re always training for this,” said Jason Lopez, a probie firefighter who was only on the job six months and was the first firefighter lowered over the wall in the air shaft between two buildings at 2 St. Nicholas Place to rescue a person from an outside ledge of the burning building between W. 149th St. and Edgecombe Ave.

Lopez also thanked the person who anchored him on the roof firefighter Michael Kotzo from Ladder 28. After anchoring Lopez, Kotzo was lowered over the wall himself by Squad 41’s Thomas Morrison. Rescue 3’s Matthew Murphy then lowered Squad 41’s Matthew Nolan for the next rescue, completing a rare triple rope roof rescue.

“There were numerous people on fire escapes on the third, fourth, fifth and sixth floors and there was heavy smoke conditions throughout,” said Hodgens at a press conference at the scene with Mayor Adams after the blaze was extinguished. Three people were found unconscious on upper floors, Hodgens said.

The NYPD aviation special ops unit helped direct firefighters to trapped people.

Reports said there were numerous e-bikes throughout the building. Cheap, non UL approved ion batteries can overheat while charging and when they ignite, they can unleash an eruption of fire that can enflame an entire room in seconds.

The blaze erupted around 2:22 p.m. on Feb. 23 and firefighters were on the scene in under three minutes. A total of 106 firefighters and EMS workers responded to the blaze, which took three hours to extinguish.

The 27-year-old victim was from Delhi, India and had graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and was working at the education news site the Hechinger Report. “We are devastated by the loss of such a great colleague and wonderful person, the Hechinger Report said in a statement on Feb. 24 after the company learned that their data reporter had perished. “And our hearts go out this family. He will be dearly missed.”

He began his career as a copyeditor at India’s leading business daily, the Business Standard in 2018 and was working as a correspondent at CNN-News18 in Delhi, before he moved to New York in 2020 to pursue his graduate degree at Columbia according to his Linkedin profile.

His death was the first one in the city this year blamed on a lithium ion battery. Last year was the deadliest fire year in nearly two decades in New York City, with 104 fire deaths across all five boroughs--the deadliest tally since 2004. There were 18 fire deaths blamed on explosive lithium ion batteries across the city, including eight in Manhattan in 2023. Aside from the fatal fires, lithium ion batteries caused over 268 fires across the city last year.

The Red Cross was putting up displaced residents from the Feb. 23 fire in a nearby public school.