SIRM Insights
Topics from the Safety Issue Review Meetings
  • SIRM 30
  • Unsafe Aircraft Environment

Cabin Fire - Case Study

#SIRM 30 Case Study – Cabin Fire

As an industry the threat of Lithium fires has remained for many Operators the most difficult and challenging risk to manage. But as society becomes more dependent on the use of portable electronic devices the threat of fires in the cabin has grown. Data shows that the threat comes from a wide range of devices, mobile phones, E-cigarettes, and laptops, being but a few.

Dealing with cabin fire is a challenging and dangerous activity undertaken by trained cabin crew, but are the tools and controls in place effective? A case study describing a fire in the cabin event on a B737 discussed the effectiveness of the mitigations and challenges faced by the crew onboard.

 Approximately 3-5 minutes after takeoff a passenger’s auxiliary battery device spontaneously caught fire in the first-class cabin. The cabin crew adopted their prescribed roles and went about their fire fighting duties as per the Organizations procedures. Whilst the cabin filled with thick dense smoke, the device was brought under control utilizing a combination of a water extinguisher and halon. As a result of the smoke, all four cabin crew were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.



The Challenges

Whilst the fire was brought rapidly under control, several challenges were faced by the cabin crew, from which learning should be taken. The dense smoke in the cabin made the firefighting activity incredibly challenging, and any delay to the activity only served to exacerbate the situation. In fire situations speed is of the essence to prevent further spread and to reduce passenger and crew risk of smoke inhalation. In this scenario the crew experienced difficulty with opening the thermal containment bags and breaking the seal holding the gloves, additionally the bulky gloves made removing the smoking device challenging. Additionally, the responding crew did not feel that they had enough time to don the protective breathing equipment that was provided for such incidents.

Organizational Lessons Learned

  1.  A recommendation was made to the thermal containment bag manufacturer to reduce the size of the seals for easier access and separation of the thermal gloves.
  2. A review of the thermal containment bag gloves to identify opportunities to improve the dexterity
  3. An incorrect thermal containment bag was boarded in the cabin; this prompted a fleet wide campaign to check all aircraft
  4. The airline made a recommendation to introduce photoluminescent emergency equipment placards as equipment was hard to locate in dense smoke


Global Recommendations

  1. All Operators should ensure that firefighting equipment is correctly allocated in the cabin sections
  2. Training for cabin crews should be aimed at highlighting deficiencies and challenges in the use of the designated equipment. The SIRM discussion highlighted similar equipment challenges faced by numerous operators.
  3. Operators are encouraged to consider how accessible firefighting equipment (especially PPE) is and how easily located it is in extreme smoke conditions (see Operator recommendation 4)
  4. Passengers need to be reminded of the dangers of battery equipped devices (including auxiliary battery devices) on board and how they can help support the reduction of risk by potentially minimizing travel devices.

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