This vehicle fire on Hwy 410 N of Hwy 401 on September 21, 2021, highlights the unpredictability of vehicle fires that many result in nothing, or death, just by the roll of the dice.

On October 2, 2020 there was a tragic death of a mother who was burned alive after a head-on collision on Highbury Ave at the southern edge of London Ontario. Since that time a group of concerned citizens has formed to publicize the need to equip fire extinguishers in every vehicle. CTV News in London, has posted several articles about the program on its website. According to CTV Tony Bendel organized the “Cindy’s Law” campaign which advocates that the Province of Ontario enact legislation to install fire extinguishers in every vehicle. In the meantime fire extinguishers by being purchased and given out at no charge by the group where ever possible.

In the tragic incident that occurred on October 2, 2020, Cindy Devine, a mother of 4, lost her life after she originally survived a collision. It was a terrible tragedy as she was alive and entrapped. Witnesses described their attempts to free her but to no avail. How difficult it must be to accept this circumstance by anyone who knew her, let alone her family. Results like these are a reminder that vehicle fires that result in minimal consequences cannot be just be ignored. Every vehicle fire has the potential of becoming a brutal tragedy.

At Gorski Consulting a number of articles have been posted over the years to highlight the importance and dangers of vehicle fires. Indirect and incomplete information suggests that vehicle fires are becoming increasingly common after a motor vehicle collision. The crucial point that has been stressed is that no information is being disseminated regarding what officials are doing to combat the problem. Official news media are making no attempts to ask important questions about the origin and cause of these fires. Police only report that a vehicle fire has taken place but often even that important evidence is not reported in their news releases. No information is provided by police as to what follow up they have performed.

Every vehicle fire is a potential safety-related defect. As such it must be reported to Transport Canada so that trends can be documented and followed up. This is a primary responsibility of this federal agency that is responsible for ensuring that the Canadian Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) are adhered to by manufacturers. But there is no public information whether such incidents are being reported to Transport Canada, nor are there any inquiries from anyone as to what Transport Canada knows. Even basic data about the numbers vehicles fires is not publicly available.

The aftermarket installation of fire extinguishers can be a problem. These units are several kilograms in weight and they contain a stiff outer shell. The public cannot appreciate that in a significant collision the unit can become a projectile that can easily apply the force of something that is 10 times heavier. Its stiffness is not like being struck by a large pillow. That stiffness is a dangerous characteristic. Thus fire extinguishers must be secured in a proper manner so that they do not strike vehicle occupants.

The public does not understand that deaths have occurred because of the existence of cargo that is seemingly of moderate weight or that has a stiff shell. In the past objects such as radio speakers have been installed at a high level, in a rear parcel shelf and, when such objects are not properly secured, they will fly through a vehicle interior and will strike the heads of occupants in that interior. But there are numerous other examples. There are situations where the force applied by cargo has collapsed the minimal anchorage of seat-backs and the force is then applied to the occupant of that seat. In other instances of angle (intersection) collisions high rotation rates can cause objects to become released because the installers believed that they only needed to consider purely forward/aft or lateral forces. These problems are best considered by manufacturer engineers and research institutions that can develop acceptable standards for those installations.

For the time being the Cindy’s Law proponents are suggesting that fire extinguishers be installed in the trunks of cars. But some vehicles such as SUVs and minivans may not contain a cargo area that is sufficiently isolated from the occupant area. It is likely that many persons will become lax about the proper anchorage/storage of such units. While this is of some concern, overall, the benefit of the existence of many fire extinguishers might outweigh the hazard of flying projectiles, but the issue needs to be properly evaluated with accurate data. As there is no publicly known information about the basic probabilities of these consequences many are left to offer uninformed opinions; actions that are understandable given the devastating results that can occur. Neither police, news media, the Ontario government nor Transport Canada are being helpful in this evaluation.

The most disturbing situation is that the public sees no reason to demand that further information be made available about the frequency of vehicles fires, what caused those fires, and if those fires were preventable. The essential availability of fire extinguishes has become apparent because so many more vehicle fires appear to be occurring. But this is not the final or only solution. Action must be taken to demand more public information about the extent of the problem.