PMD-related fires almost doubled in 2019: SCDF

SINGAPORE (CNA) – The number of personal mobility device (PMD)-related fires almost doubled in 2019, annual statistics released by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) showed yesterday.

There were 102 fires involving PMDs last year, a “sharp increase” from the 52 incidents in 2018, SCDF said. This figure has steadily increased since 2015, when only one PMD-related fire was reported.

On the other hand, power-assisted bicycles (PAB)-related fires went down from 22 cases in 2018 to 13 cases last year.

This comes after the government set up a task force, comprising agencies like SCDF, the Land Transport Authority and Singapore’s Housing and Development Board in September 2019 to tackle the issue of PMD-related fires.

SCDF Director of Operations Assistant Commissioner (AC) Daniel Seet said the PMD-related fires in 2019 all involved non-UL2272 certified devices, adding that they had “some sort of modifications” – mainly to the battery.

The burnt wreck of a personal mobility device (PMD) that caught fire while it was charging at Block 715 Clementi West Street 2 on December 5, 2019. PHOTO: CNA

Fires involving PMDs and PABs caused 46 injuries in 2019, a 77 per cent spike from the 26 injuries in 2018. This includes one fatality last year, when a 40-year-old man who was rescued from a PMD-related fire in Bukit Batok died in hospital.The SCDF highlighted that in 2019, almost 70 per cent of such fires occurred in homes.

“SCDF urges members of the public, especially PMD owners, to be vigilant when handling their devices as fires involving PMDs and PABs can result in casualties and serious damage to property,” it said.

Calling the increase in such fires an “area of concern”, SCDF said it would continue to highlight the related fire safety risks and educate the public on preventive measures through social and mainstream media.

“All owners of non-UL2272 certified PMDs should also dispose of their devices at designated disposal points,” it added.

Nevertheless, AC Seet said PMD-related fires have dropped since December 2019, pointing out that the e-scooter footpath ban which kicked in November 2019 has made an “impact”.

“We will continue to monitor this. This is something that the inter-agency task force is working closely on,” he said, adding that the task force meets once every two months.

“We are meeting to review all the various cases that have happened in the previous month to understand what’s the specific nature of each case. Many of these cases are still undergoing investigations.”

Overall, SCDF responded to 2,862 fire calls in 2019, an eight per cent increase from the year before.

SCDF said dropped light cases remains the leading cause of fires, accounting for 37 per cent of all fires last year. Electrical origin fires were the second highest.

Dropped light refers to the indiscriminate disposal of lit materials, like lit cigarette butts that were not completely extinguished, charcoal embers and lit incense sticks.

Fires in residential premises accounted for 41 per cent of total fire calls. A majority of these were unattended cooking fires, followed by discarded item fires and household contents fires.

“SCDF would like to remind members of the public not to leave their cooking unattended, and not to discard items at the common areas such as lift lobbies, common corridors and staircase landings,” it said.

“Such discarded items not only pose a fire risk but may obstruct people who are evacuating the area during an emergency.”

Another 42 per cent occurred in non-building places like vegetation and vehicles.

While the latter decreased by 12 per cent, the number of vegetation fires in 2019 increased by 50 per cent to 883 cases. “This was largely due to the sustained dry weather between January and March 2019 as well as between July and September 2019,” SCDF said.

SCDF said it will address this increase by continuing to work closely with the Wildlife Task Force, comprising members from relevant agencies like the National Environment Agency and National Parks Board.

“Patrols at fire hot spots will also be increased during dry periods to detect possible fire risks and promptly attend to any fire occurrences,” it said.

Finally, the remaining 17 per cent of fire calls occurred in non-residential premises, including commercial, industrial as well as social and communal premises.

SCDF said there were 142 fire injuries in 2019, a 60 per cent increase from the year before. Sixty per cent of these were smoke inhalation cases, while the remaining were burns.

The majority of the fire injuries had occurred in residential buildings.

On the enforcement front, SCDF said it conducted 13,397 checks in 2019, an eight per cent decrease from the year before. It also issued 2,487 Fire Hazard Abatement Notices and 2,045 Notices of Fire Safety Offences in 2019.

The most common fire hazards were non-functioning exit signs or emergency lights, followed by non-maintenance of firefighting equipment and the obstruction of an exit or fire engine accessway.

The most common fire safety violation was the unauthorised change of use of premises, which would render existing fire safety measures inadequate, followed by unauthorised fire safety works and the unlicensed storage or transportation of petroleum and flammable material.