NTSB Calls Attention to Transportation Fire Prevention and Control

Transportation safety efforts focus most often on preventing vehicles from crashing – or sinking, in the case of boats and ships – and minimizing injuries and fatalities in the event the worst happens. One aspect of transit safety that receives less attention is fire prevention.

Fires on passenger vehicles are immensely hazardous. In contrast with buildings, which offer multiple exits and often feature advanced fire detection and control systems, vehicles such as ships, planes, trains, and buses offer no easy egress while in motion and often lack those systems.

The National Transportation Safety Board called attention to this issue in its latest Most Wanted List – an outline of its top safety advocacy priorities. The report cited a number of disastrous transportation fires. In 2005, a bus in Texas caught fire when a tire ignited at high speed; 23 died. Since 2006, three cargo planes and two flight crews were lost due to cargo fires. And in 1996, a laundry room fire on a passenger ship near Juneau, Alaska, caused over $1 million in damages. Fortunately, no serious injuries resulted from that fire.

The report pointed out the importance of early detection of fires and impending fires. The board said detection devices in ships’ engine rooms and cargo planes’ holds are key. In motorcoaches, systems to monitor tire temperatures can prevent tires from igniting.

Fire suppression is crucial for aircraft and marine vessels that are often a long way from a suitable landing area or dock. Sprinklers in engine rooms and cargo holds can save lives. In buses, using fire-resistant materials to separate fire-prone areas can keep passenger compartments safe. Similarly, using such materials in aircraft cargo containers can help prevent fires from spreading.

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