(Above: 3-wheeled PMA fire at Ang Mo Kio, 7th July 2021. Source: straitstimes.com)
2 people were rescued in the wee hours of 7th July 2021 from a flat in Block 314 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 3. Fortunately, the neighbours worked together and managed to put out the fire by pouring buckets of water through the window and door of the 10th storey flat.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) arrived shortly, and they forced entry into the flat to rescue the 2 residents. “Preliminary investigation into the cause of the fire indicates that it was of electrical origin from the PMA scooter,” said the SCDF.
From the picture above, it is quite clear that this is one of those 3-wheeled electric scooters (e-scooter) using lithium batteries, which are being marketed as personal mobility aids (PMA). This is not the first time such lithium battery-powered PMA devices have caught fire in Singapore. Two such 3-wheeled e-scooters caught fire in Bedok spontaneously in the corridor outside a flat back in 2018. It was not being used or charged at all, which rules out the commonly-held theory that the fires are caused by faulty chargers.
(Above: 3-wheel PMA fire at Bedok, 29th Oct 2018. Source: straitstimes.com)
Comparatively, despite having been in the market for decades and being a common power source for the majority of the PMA population, lead-acid battery-powered devices have never caught fire in Singapore. This speaks volumes about the comparative safety of lead-acid batteries. Lead-acid batteries simply won’t catch fire like lithium batteries because lead is an inactive metal, whereas lithium is a highly reactive metal.
Therefore, if you are thinking of buying a PMA device for either yourself or an elderly family member, please consider the battery type. Do you really need one with a lithium battery? Or is a lead-acid battery good enough?
For day-to-day use around the neighbourhood, we recommend choosing lead-acid battery-powered mobility scooters by default. It is even better if they are 4-wheeled scooters because they are more stable than 3-wheelers and less likely to topple sideways when performing a sharp turn. These devices are heavier and probably slower but are much safer both in terms of stability and fire safety.
However, if you need a lightweight PMA device because you need to transport it in a car or bring it overseas for travel, then lithium-battery powered PMA devices are the better choice because lithium batteries are much lighter than lead-acid batteries. But if you choose lithium batteries, you MUST avoid riding in the rain. You should also follow good charging habits recommended by the SCDF, such as using only Safety Marked chargers from the original manufacturer and not charging overnight.