Onboard Fire Extinguishers
Saturday March 7th, 2020, 7:30 am, the morning of the Amelia Island Concours, Reliable Carriers Eight Flags Road Tour. My wife, Anne, and I retrieve our family’s 1957 AC Ace-Bristol from the Reliable Carriers paddock at Peter’s Point just north of the Ritz-Carlton hotel. There is something oddly comforting about the hum of dozens of idling diesel trucks coupled with the excitement of seeing the rear door opening and your car safely rolling out into the morning sunshine.
Our morning drivers meeting covered the basics and outlined the route, timeline, and destinations we will be stopping at along with introductions of our police escorts from the Highway Patrol and Sheriff’s office. The meeting was capped off with a congratulatory send off from Concours Chairman, Bill Warner, and this year’s honoree, Roger Penske.
So far so good for us as we drive single file down A1A. This is only our second time driving our Bristol in two days since it was delivered straight out of restoration. The “new car jitters” of familiarizing yourself with squeaks, vibrations, and odd odors still have our full attention as to make sure nothing goes wrong. From our vantage point the tour was operating smoothly and on time until our first stop just 45 minutes down the road. We learned that a 1914 Packard had caught fire shortly after leaving the starting line. Rumors were circulating ranging from a bad backfire to a total melt down.
It wasn’t until later in the day that we were able to speak to our dear friend and fellow RPM Ambassador, Stephen Murphy, from Chicago Vintage Motor Carriage, L.L.C.. Stephen and his passengers were in the car following the Packard. They could smell the car was running rich and decided to increase their distance from the car. Fortunately, from their new vantage point further back, they noticed flames dripping down from underneath the car. About the same time the driver of the Packard pulled over and grabbed his fire extinguisher. Stephen was prepared and grabbed his own fire extinguisher from their 1958 Cadillac Biarritz and assisted the Packard owner in attempting to put out the flames through the louvers in the hood. The first two extinguishers were not able to stop the flames from the overflowing downdraft carburetor that had a stuck float. Thankfully, enough other tour participants and our police escorts, were able to come up with four more fire extinguishers to completely put out the fire, saving the Packard from a total loss. In fact, the owner was able to correct the matter with the carburetor and showed the Packard at the Concours the following day with his flame kissed engine compartment and blistered paint.
Thankfully, no one was injured and there were enough prepared good Samaritans nearby to come to the Packard owners rescue. This could have been far worse and gone the other direction of not being prepared and all of us would have borne witness to an American classic returning to her natural elements on the roadside. It begs the question, how prepared are you for a fire in your cars? Embarrassingly, I was not prepared with our own automotive fire extinguisher, but thanks to my resourceful wife, we “borrowed” the kitchen fire extinguisher from our rental condo to have on hand just in case.
In my post Amelia debrief I went down a rabbit hole researching fire extinguishers and the variety of extinguishing agents that can be used on car fires. You might be familiar with the ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher. If you have ever used one before you may have already winced at the idea of having to use it as the dry chemical agent that extinguishes the fire is horrible to clean up after the fire is put out. A way to circumnavigate this is to locate a Halotron I Clean Fire Extinguisher. The Halotron I uses a rapidly-evaporating liquid that displaces the oxygen that a fire needs to burn. It’s referred to as a Clean Fire Extinguisher since the Halotron I extinguishing agent dissipates into the air and does not leave any residue behind to clean up. If you don’t like the idea of mounting a 1.4, 2.5, or 5-lb Halotron I bottle in your car, you might consider another Clean Extinguisher, such as the Element E50 at just 0.6 lbs.! Element is not your ordinary red bottle fire extinguisher but resembles a standard road flare baton. Element discharges a totally clean & non-toxic firefighting gas that leaves no residue behind. Its compact nature is easy to use with one hand and is small enough that it can fit in your glove box, console, or door pocket.
As an insurance agent, I cannot stress enough the importance of carrying a charged and ready fire extinguisher in any car, old or new. More importantly, keeping it within arm’s reach of the driver. There are several online retailers for the extinguishers I have mentioned and many of them offer a variety of brackets that you can mount to the front of your seat, roll bar, or even your door. Please be prepared not only for yourself, but for other motorists like our 1914 Packard owner.
- Adam Martin