Opinion

Fire extinguishers are not a requirement in vehicles - why not?

By Laura Briggs

Did you know the first automatic fire alarm was invented in 1890? In fact, it was created by a former associate of Thomas Edison’s… Smart bunch, they were.

Since then, smoke detectors have obviously advanced and look a lot different to that that was originally constructed — as does the average home.

I do not know what most homes looked like in the 1890s but I doubt they would have had a lot of rooms.

Homes today are a different story.

Something that caught me by surprise as I was putting together a story recently, is the new recommendation for Aussies to have smoke detectors installed in all bedrooms.

With all the advancements that have occurred since 1890, it has taken until 2019 for us to think ‘hey, maybe the empty hallway isn’t the right place for these’?

It made sense as I read the reasons you would relocate a smoke detector to the room in which you sleep and which contains numerous highly flammable items and potential fire-starters.

For example, our ability to smell and detect smoke is heavily reduced when we sleep. Therefore, if a fire were to start in the bedroom while you were asleep, it is generally too late by the time the smoke reaches the hallway.

And statistics have shown just that. Over the past decade, 22 people lost their lives because of a bedroom fire and 117 people were seriously injured.

While I think the recommendation was well overdue, I encourage people to act on it now.

Such a precaution will be a step towards safer homes for all.

So that is a positive.

Cars, however, are a different matter.

Why is it that motorised boat owners who use their boats on inland rivers, lakes and dams must carry appropriate life jackets, a water-proof buoyant torch, a bailer, a pair of oars and a fire extinguisher at an absolute minimum, while drivers on Victorian roads are required to carry nothing but a licence?

Those items carried on a boat are there in case something goes wrong.

So why are there no similar precautions taken in cars?

In 2017 I was involved in an accident where my car rolled several times before the front of the vehicle caught fire.

Luckily, I remained conscious, and despite having a broken back I was able to squirm my way through the broken driver’s side window to safety.

To my surprise, there was a man who witnessed the accident and he came running with a fire extinguisher to put out the flames before they spread.

While the accident was not ideal, the outcome could have been so very different. What if no-one happened to be travelling the area at the time and I lost consciousness? What if that man did not have a fire extinguisher and my legs were trapped? These are questions I occasionally ask myself.

But the bigger question is, why don’t we all have fire extinguishers in our cars?

We all know how dangerous the roads can be. We all know people often become trapped behind the wheel. So what happens when they are trapped and their car is on fire?

Anything can happen at any point. Therefore, all Australian drivers should be required to carry a fire extinguisher in their vehicle. Maybe only one in a thousand people will ever need it, but it is worth having just in case you happen to be that one, right?