The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), and professional firefighters today issued a national consumer advisory requesting the public’s help in preventing vehicle fires in the United States.
According to recently completed research by NFPA, U.S. public fire departments responded to an estimated 266,500 highway-type vehicle fires during 2004. These fires claimed 520 lives, caused 1,300 injuries, and nearly a billion dollars in property damage. Also, highway vehicle fires accounted for 17 percent of all reported fires and 13 percent of all civilian fire deaths. Highway vehicles include cars, trucks, motorcycles, and other vehicles commonly driven on roads or highways. Mechanical or electrical failures are the most frequent cause of highway vehicle fires.
“In 2004, highway vehicle fires caused more deaths than apartment fires,” said NFPA President James M. Shannon. “The public needs to be more aware of this serious fire safety issue and take measures to lessen the risk of an incident.”
AAA President Robert L. Darbelnet said, “The size and seriousness of the vehicle fire problem in the United States is prompting AAA to advise all motorists to be alert to vehicle maintenance issues that can cause fires and to know what actions they should take if their vehicle is involved in a fire.
“Although drivers may believe fires occur mostly from collisions, this is not true. Many more are caused by failed vehicle components that were not maintained or repaired before causing or accelerating a fire. For this reason, AAA and NFPA urge all vehicle owners to arrange for comprehensive maintenance inspection of their vehicles this fall, if they have not had one performed in the last 12 months,” Darbelnet said.
Vehicle owners and the technicians that inspect their vehicles need to be especially alert to damaged wiring and loose electrical connections, worn or blistered fluid lines and leaking connections, severely worn brake components, and damaged heat shields; especially those protecting catalytic converters, exhaust manifolds, and other high-temperature heat sources, AAA said.
According to NFPA statistics, more than two-thirds of highway vehicle fires resulted from mechanical or electrical failures or malfunctions. Collisions or rollovers caused only 3% of these fires, but 57% of the associated deaths.
To further reduce the risks associated with vehicle fires, consumers need to be knowledgeable about what to do – and not to do — if their vehicle catches fire. Fire Chief Otto Drozd of the Hialeah, Florida fire department advises, “If a vehicle fire occurs, stop, get out and call for help as quickly as possible. Avoid attempting to fight the fire yourself, it can lead to serious injury or death.
Drozd recommends the following:
STOP – If possible, pull to the side of the road to make it possible for everyone to get out of the vehicle safely. Turn off the ignition to shut off the electric current and stop the flow of gasoline. Put the transmission in park and set the emergency brake; you don’t want the vehicle to move after you leave it. Do not open the hood because more oxygen can make the fire larger and exposes you to a sudden flare-up.
GET OUT – Make sure everyone gets out of the vehicle, but do not waste time and increase risk by removing personal belongings. Then move at least 100 feet away. Keep traffic in mind, and keep everyone together. There is not only danger from the fire, but also other vehicles moving in the area.
CALL FOR HELP – Call 911 or the emergency number for your local fire department. Firefighters are specially trained to combat vehicle fires. Never return to the vehicle to attempt to fight the fire yourself. Vehicle fires can be tricky, even for firefighters. Pressurized components can burst or explode, spilling or spraying highly flammable liquids, or eject projectiles than can cause serious injuries.
To reduce the risk of a vehicle fire, AAA makes these recommendations:
— Have your vehicles inspected at least annually by a trained, professional technician. As a public service, AAA inspects and approves thousands of repair facilities in the U.S. and Canada as part of the AAA Approved Auto Repair program. You can find names and locations of AAA-approved repair businesses at www.aaa.com.
— Watch for fluid leaks under vehicles, cracked or blistered hoses, or wiring that is loose, has exposed metal or has cracked insulation. Have any of these conditions inspected and repaired as soon as possible.
— Be alert to changes in the way your vehicle sounds when running, or to a visible plume of exhaust coming from the tailpipe. A louder than usual exhaust tone, smoke coming from the tailpipe, or a backfiring exhaust could mean problems or damage to the high-temperature exhaust and emission control system on the vehicle. Have vehicles inspected and repaired as soon as possible if exhaust or emission control problems are suspected.
— Avoid smoking. If you must smoke, use your vehicle ashtray.
— Drive according to posted speed limits and other traffic rules. Remain alert to changing road conditions at all times.