It’s good for vehicles to carry portable fire extinguisher, say experts

The lorry was parked for about 10 minutes when its driver, who was sitting by the roadside, smelled something burning.

He was horrified to see smoke emerging from the engine before it burst into flames, causing the used goods dealer to lose several thousand dollars when the incident happened in January.

He isn't the only one whose vehicle had burst into flames.

There were 218 such vehicle fires last year, up from 202 in 2012. And to combat these fires, the National Fire and Civil Emergency Preparedness Council (NFEC) said it encourages drivers to equip their vehicles with a fire extinguisher.

An NFEC spokesman said: "Most vehicle fires start small, but can spread rapidly due to the presence of flammables such as petrol, diesel and lubricants."

Some experts whom The New Paper spoke to agreed that it would be good for vehicles to carry a portable fire extinguisher.

One of them is accident reconstruction engineer Kelvin Koay, who has been dealing with road accidents for 40 years.

He said: "It's useful to have one in your car. In the event of a small non-electrical fire, the driver can take action and put out the fire before it spreads.

"It gives the driver confidence and allows him to protect himself.

"You don't have to wait till the Singapore Civil Defence Force gets to you. By then, the fire could have become huge."

Likewise, the director of fire solutions company 5 Ways Engineering Services, Mr Derrick Ng, said having a fire extinguisher in the car would allow the driver or passengers to act fast.

Said Mr Ng: "There's no harm in keeping a portable fire extinguisher in your car boot or mounted near the engine.

'SAFE'

"It's safe and will not explode like you see in the movies in the event of an accident.

"It can help save lives in times of an emergency."

For most cars, he estimates a 1kg portable fire extinguisher, costing about $40, would suffice. Larger vehicles such as tipper trucks could carry 2kg ones that cost about $60.

While most experts agreed that a portable fire extinguisher would be useful to motorists, not all were for the idea that it should be mandatory.

Said Yong Lee Seng Motor's managing director Raymond Tang: "We don't know whether it is dangerous to carry a fire extinguisher.

"If they leak, we don't know what sort of effect it could have on the engine, wiring or even on people in the vehicle.

"There needs to be an authority to certify that each extinguisher is safe. Perhaps a soft approach to encourage motorists to carry an extinguisher would work for now."

That sentiment was shared by MP Ang Hin Kee, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Transport.

"It's more important to find out the cause of the increase in vehicle fires. Is it a common wiring issue, design problem or caused by a particular make? We should look to minimise these fires first, rather than look to react to them," he said.

Mr Ang said it may be dangerous for motorists to put out fires that may be out of their control.

Also, fire extinguishers would not be effective in all situations, said Mr Koay.

Most of these fires were caused by ignition sources such as overheating and electrical faults, said the NFEC.

Said Mr Koay: "Electrical fires could easily spread to the entire vehicle through the wiring, bellow heavy smoke and could get huge very fast.

"It would not be advisable to combat those fires with a fire extinguisher."

rloh@sph.com.sg


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