Man who died in PMD-related fire left toilet to save dogs in living room

Remains of burnt e-scooters at Bukit Batok. (PHOTO: Murali Pillai/Facebook)
Remains of burnt e-scooters after a fire at Bukit Batok in July last year. (PHOTO: Murali Pillai/Facebook)

SINGAPORE — A man who died in a fire that might have been caused by a charging personal mobility device (PMD) had left his place of refuge in a toilet to try and save his dogs in the living room.

Goh Keng Soon, 40, was initially in the master bedroom’s toilet with his wife during the fire, according to a Singapore Police Force (SPF) investigation officer, who was testifying at a coroner’s inquiry into Goh’s death on Friday (23 October). He asked his wife to stay in the toilet while he left to save the two dogs that were barking in the living room, the officer said.

The device had earlier been left to charge in the living room while Goh and his wife retired to bed around midnight.

Due to the intense heat and smoke from the fire, Goh hid in the common toilet where he subsequently collapsed. He was found later by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), which responded to a call from a member of the public reporting the case of an e-scooter on fire at Goh’s Bukit Batok unit, at around 12.41am on 18 July last year.

Goh died from multiple organ failure following a heart attack and had thermal burns and coronary artery disease, said SPF’s Inspector Muhammad Eszham Sabtu, referring to an autopsy report.

The cause of fire was determined by the SPF to be from overheating due to the charging of a PMD that was found at the scene of fire. The PMD had possibly been overcharged, with a lack of effective battery management system and a faulty adaptor.

Investigations from an SCDF senior fire investigator, Huang Weikang, showed that the fire was primarily caused by a localised resistance overheating at a two-pin plug and charging port during the charging of one of the three PMDs at the scene.

Only one PMD was charging at the time of the incident – the same one that had proven faulty.

“Based on investigation, the probable cause of fire was accidental in nature and of electrical origin and that the lithium ion battery cells were primary ignition fuel,” Major Huang told State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam. He added that the other items in the living room were secondary ignition fuel. Damage to the living room furniture also indicated that the fire had begun in that area.

The SPF investigator added that there was no suspicion of foul play or that the fire was deliberately set. Fire from embers or smouldering material was unlikely and there was no evidence of smoking or prayer activity at the unit, nor indication of flammable liquids involved, noted the SCDF investigator.

As a result of the incident, three casualties were conveyed to hospitals, Goh, his wife, and a neighbour who suffered cuts.

When SC Ponnamapalam asked if Goh was successful in saving his pets, the SPF investigator said that it was unclear but both dogs survived and were later placed under the care of a neighbour.

An independent expert, Edmund Ng from Matcor Technology and Services, testified that there was overheating in three locations connected to the charging PMD – the charging port, between the two pin plug and socket adaptor, and the battery pack of the PMD. The expert was unable to pinpoint which one of these contributed to the fire, but said that all three could have contributed to the fire.

Due to the overheating, the temperature of the device increased and any combustible material nearby might have caught fire, said the expert.

State Counsel Daphne Lim then asked if the battery management system of the PMD was compliant with the UL2272 standard. UL2272 is an electrical standard required for fire-safety compliance of certain electrical components.The standard ensures that there is protective circuitry with the battery management system (BMS) to prevent overcharging or an increase in temperature within the system.

However, the expert said that he was not able to ascertain if the BMS was compliant as it was burnt by the fire. If the BMS was working and compliant, an increase in temperature would have resulted in the electrical supply being cut off so that the PMD would stop charging.

Overheating could have also been caused by the loose connection between the two-pin plug and the adaptor, said Ng.

The matter has been adjourned to a later date.

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