Breaking Down Automotive Fire Safety

You know what looks really cool? Fire safety equipment. Stick with me here. If you’ve seen the movie Rush, the scene where Niki Lauda and James Hunt face off before the race, and all you can see are their eyes peering through their gear, probably stood out to you. But a driver covered head-to-toe in safety clothing does more than simply lend an official air. It quite literally saves your hide in the event of a fire. Just ask the real Niki Lauda, whose Ferrari 312T2 crashed into an embankment during the F1 German Grand Prix on August 1, 1976, nearly killing him and leaving him with third-degree burns and lung damage.

Fire is a natural hazard in the automotive world. If you look at the basic principles of how an automobile operates, you’ll find that fuel and spark are two essential ingredients to make an engine run. Shoddy repair work or a bad accident can quickly lead to a life-threatening fire. Although rare, even new vehicles, in perfect working condition, can lead to disaster. Generally though, mechanical and electrical issues are the main causes of vehicle fires. Chewed, chaffed, or loose wiring, oil or fluid leaks, and broken parts or seals are all fire hazards that can usually be prevented with proper maintenance and inspection. Sometimes though, catastrophe strikes despite your best efforts. And in those cases, it’s important you have fire safety protocols in place.

Fire Safety 101: Extinguishers

First, every household and work shop should have a fire extinguisher on hand. Automotive fires can spread rapidly, and simply pouring water on an oil fire or electrical fire won’t do the trick. Because of this, a fire extinguisher is crucial to proper fire safety. A good tip is to keep one directly in the vehicle in question. This can be a real lifesaver when you’re firing an engine for the first time or working with questionable wiring. Keeping one near means precious time won’t be wasted if things go south.

If you need further evidence of their importance, simply look at the pros, as racers keep one in the cabin. This way in the case of an accident or fire, the driver can quickly grab a hold of the extinguisher. Some cars are even set up with their own fire suppression systems. This means that from the comfort of the cabin, the drivers can simply pull a cable that activates an extinguisher aimed at an area where a fire is likely to occur.

Fire Safety 102: Racing Suits

Niki Lauda survived that brutal crash in which his car erupted into flames. The incident left him with serious scarring but if it weren’t for the fire suit and equipment he was wearing, it would have been much worse.  It doesn’t matter how good a driver is or how fine the vehicle is, anyone can easily wind up in an accident on a racetrack. This is why drivers are regularly required to dress from head to toe in fire safety gear.

So, how good are the fire suits that race car drivers use? Well, to answer that question we need to take a look at what they are made of. Racing fire suits are made of a Nomex/Kevlar blend. The Nomex helps create a fire-retardant barrier while the Kevlar prevents tearing and extends the life of the suit. The design of blending the two together keeps the suits breathable and durable. It’s worth noting that this technology extends to other gear as well, including gloves, long underwear, socks, and even the lining inside helmets and shoes.

Additionally, these suits are subject to different levels of ratings to ensure that manufacturers are performing the necessary fire safety tests. The best measure of these is the TPP rating, which indicates how long a suit will protect you before you would suffer second-degree burns. And luckily, as technology progresses, racers find that they can get maximum safety without compromising on comfort or budget.

Fire Safety 103: Have a Plan

As for your own fire safety protocol? Be smart and be prepared. If you smell or see smoke coming from your vehicle, pull over as quickly as is safe to do so and turn the engine off. Get everyone out and stand at least 150 feet away while you call for help. Consider having a small fire extinguisher on hand for emergencies. And keep up with those tune-ups and inspections! Often, disaster can be averted through simple prevention.

And rest assured that the brave men and women who respond to such situations have suits that use the same fire safety technology as the racers mentioned above. That’s right—fire fighters who brave raging flames rely on the same material. Hoods, jackets, and overalls are all commonly lined with Nomex to keep responders safe from intense heat and fire. Considering these suits have braved horrendous fires from natural disasters to attacks like 9/11, we’d say they’ve earned their safety ratings.

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