By now, you would’ve heard of the tragic accident in Singapore involving a speeding BMW M4 that lost control prior to pummeling into a shop lot before exploding and claiming the lives of the five occupants with a sixth victim fighting for her life with 80 per cent burns to her body following a failed rescue attempt.
Devastating as the circumstances may be, it does present an opportunity to raise awareness and address the burning issue here; how to best be prepared in the incident of a vehicular fire.
What to do in a vehicular fire?
We know it’s easier said than done but if you’re in a vehicle that appears to be on fire, don’t panic. Vehicular fires can spread rapidly, especially if said vehicle is in motion as wind blows onto the flame and feeds it oxygen.
Slow down and pull over at the side of the road but remember to avoid other road users as you do. Once at the side, immediately shut off the ignition, engage the parking brake and throw the transmission into P before exiting the vehicle with haste. This prevents fuel from flowing and the vehicle from rolling away whilst on fire. That's best left to Michael Bay movies.
Ensure yourself and all passengers are about 30 metres away from the vehicle and never ever return to retrieve any personal property. Dial 999 or 112 to report the incident to emergency services and wait for the abang and kakak Bomba to arrive.
Do not attempt to put out the fire unless you have clear access to the source whilst being able to maintain a safe distance and a suitable fire extinguisher. Only use a Class B or Class C extinguisher that’s purposed for flammable liquids or electrical components. The extinguisher itself will be clearly marked with its type.
Although modern vehicles have fuel tanks that are designed to prevent ruptures, it’s not entirely impossible for such a scenario to happen and expose fuel to the fire leading to a larger flame; as witnessed in the Singapore accident.
If you believe the source of the flames to be from under the bonnet or boot, never open them. The additional air that engulfs the flame could cause it to enlarge.
Finally, remain aware of your surroundings until emergency services arrive.
In the unfortunate event that you’re an occupant of a vehicle involved in a collision and subsequently catches fire, exiting or making it easy for others to rescue you is crucial.
Unlock the doors and windows. Even if unable to open the door, this will allow bystanders and rescuers a better chance of getting you to safety. Remember to disengage your seatbelt as well if possible.
In the event that the buckle won’t disengage, move the strap over your head and attempt to lift your legs out from underneath if you aren’t injured and able to move.
Finally, kick out a window or shatter it (some kit to have on hand is addressed below). This allows for a way out if the door is stuck and for smoke to exit the vehicle. It’s paramount you avoid smoke inhalation as that could disable you from escaping over the actual flames itself.
What equipment should I have in the vehicle?
1. Fire extinguisher – This one goes without saying really. A 1kg ABC dry powder extinguisher is the best to keep in a vehicle. More importantly however is its location. You’ll want it in an easy-to-reach spot within the cabin. Ideally, this is under the front passenger seat but ensure it’s secured properly.
2. LifeHammer – The LifeHammer is a multipurpose escape tool for vehicles on fire, submerged or in a collision. It has a steel point that cuts or shatters windows easily and a razor-sharp blade to sever a jammed seatbelt. This compact tool is best kept within easy reach of the driver in the cabin as well.
3. First aid kit – Not just limited to fires, a first aid kit is essential in every vehicle. In the event of minor burns, run the affected area under cool running water for about 10 minutes before applying some antiseptic or aloe vera cream.
How to use a fire extinguisher?
Purchasing a fire extinguisher and storing in the vehicle isn’t sufficient, you’ll need to learn how to operate it. Obviously, during the fire isn’t the best time for that. So, take a few minutes to read the instructions on the device and watch a few YouTube videos to get an understanding of it.
The easiest way is to remember the P.A.S.S method; Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep.
1. PULL the safety pin out of the handle. There’s usually a bright tag or hook attached to it.
2. AIM the nozzle at the base of the fire. To extinguish a fire, you must eliminate it at the source and that’s the base.
3. SQUEEZE the lever gently to begin discharging the extinguishing agent.
4. SWEEP the nozzle left and right of the base to prevent the fire spreading. Take note of wind direction and stand against it to avoid being in the direction of the fire spreading.