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Sebring Fire & Egress - pics and video


friscolaw
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Everyone in chumpcar know "Ella."  The sweet #890 BMW draws much fanfare not just for her good looks, but known reliability.  Add in Elon and his family and crew providing endless amounts empanadas, food, drink, advice, and car parts for every racer on the course, and its easy to know why E Racing is a fan favorite.
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Photo Credit: Mike Miessler(That's me in the car.  I was only in the car about 20 minutes so this must have been just before the fire).
 
Sebring: My drive time was scheduled for 1:30p.  For a race that begins at 9 this is a lifetime away for a driver.  The car was running well.  With no surprise, there had been zero mechanical problems and all drivers were performing consistently.
 
I'd been in Ella plenty of times.  So although this was essentially a new track for me, I knew this car well.  
 
Before you ask, yes, I had practiced egress out of the car.  I've practiced with my helmet on (not gear) and with my eyes closed.  I didn't practice this weekend, but have on other races.  As a team we had discussed this.  One of the things I discussed with Elon who saw me practicing was not to waste time opening the door.  Its just as easy to get out the window.
 
My practice had picked up recently after reading about another driver's car catching fire in WRL. It was enough to scare me into thinking about it more and practicing egress more.
 
Finally, the time had come.  I had just gotten in the car after anxiously waiting all morning for my stint.  I did 7 laps and was improving my times and learning the course.  
 
I had just come off of Turn 5 and into big bend. I went to upshift then nothing happened. No power. But it sounded like the engine was still on. I tried restarting and a few other things but nothing worked.  
 
I radioed in as a started to roll to a stop. As a driver I was thinking “damn, what did I do to mess up the car.”  On the radio they were asking what it sounded like, etc.  Anyone  that knows me knows I’m no mechanic. I just drive. So I’m usually not the best at diagnosing issues. So I stop off line but not in the grass as I’ve learned to do.  I began to prepare myself mentally for the sucky heat I’m about to endure of sitting in a stagnant car. 
 
The view from my seat
 
Video of Fire & Egress here:

 
While I’m talking to the pits, POOF an loud and scratch fireball comes out of the front right. I yell back on the radio “fire, fire, fire.”  Yeah, it’s weird call that in but I was already holding the com down when it happened.
 
First I released the belts. 
Second I shut down the power 
Third I released the window net. 
 
I didn’t take off the wheel, I’m slender enough to not need to. I don’t do that on driver changes either. 
 
I also didn’t open the door.  Just like practice. 
 
I then tried to get out. Didn’t work. Tried again didn’t work again. Reached for my belt release thinking I hadn’t released them. I then hopped out. 
 
The radio connector released off on its own.  The cool suit did not but I yanked hard and it released as well. 
 
Once I was out of the car I realized I hadn’t pulled the fire suppressant. I thought for a second whether or not I should reach in and do it. I had visions of my head stuck inside an exploding car while I reached in. But before I could decide, and almost simultaneously, I saw someone waiving at me.  
 
A flagger/martial was waiving me over to get over the wall. I did.  I asked him to radio in that I was ok figuring others were worried because I had yelled fire into the coms before jumping out. 
 
The fire trucks showed up in record time. It felt like under 2 minutes. They put the fire out quickly and were commenting on how hot it had burned. Once the pulled it on the flatbed they had to spray it again because it flamed back up. 
 
If you heard the live chumpcast (about 5:25) when Bill came over to see what happened, I misspoke on what happened in the car.  This was immediately after the the accident and the adrenaline was still pumping pretty hard.  Luckily we had some video that could break it down and see what went right and what went wrong.
 
I told Bill that I had forgotten to undo my belts. I had not.  I can see in the video I took them off and the bungee holding the strap moved.  The best I can tell is I just had a bad angle on getting out the window.  All the gear, the hans plus a seat with halos on each side of your head make for a narrow exit. But it felt like I was still strapped in.  
 
If at this point you are still reading, thank you.  I’m open to criticism or discussion on what to do better. Hopefully we can all learn from this.  
 
Obviously I should have pulled the fire pin. I’ve always heard that you do that last because you will not be able to see with all the foam spray after you do that.  And in practice you're obviously never going to actually pull it.  
 
I’ve since learned that this is not always the case. I heard that info about the spray from another racecar I drive.  Apparently there is another type of fire suppression -- more of a gas than a foam version which is what we had.  I can’t say for sure that this knowledge would have changed whether or not I pulled the pin. 
 
While everyone around certainly was sympathetic to the situation and glad I was out safe, the “you shoulda’s” started to come out stronger as time went on. 
 
"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth" -Mike Tyson
 
I got punched in the mouth. Hard.
 
So while I’m open to discussion and improvement please keep that in mind when critiquing my “code brown” situation. 
 
There’s a decent chance the damage wouldn’t have been as bad if the fire suppressant went to work. Fortunately that truck was there as fast as it was. Not pulling the pin was obviously my biggest sin of the event. 
 
From my count it took me 13 seconds to get out. It should been faster. The two attempts to get out that didn’t work held me up. Still not sure what happened there.
 
Afterthoughts:
 
The culprit appears to be a faulty fuel line. The car stopped because the engine wasn’t getting fuel. The fuel was instead spraying on something hot. My understanding is the line was replaced recently so it’s not anything we “did wrong” here. I never smelled fuel in the car.  I'm pretty sensitive to that so my guess isn't it was a slow leak but I don't really know.
 
Practice. Practice again. Practice again. Helmet and belts on.  Eyes closed. But go further. Decide what each hand will do.  This was suggested to me after and makes sense. Decide the order. Discuss it with your teammates. 
 
As odd as it sounds I think I would have gone faster if I slowed down a bit.  Been more methodical with my movements. But in the end I wasn't hurt (except for a mysterious bruise I found the next morning. I'm guessing from the window exit).  No burns, no smoke inhalation.  
 
I realize I had a really lucky go at it. First off, the car was already stopped. Depending where you are on track, stopping the car would chew up a lot of time.  But with practice that time you can double dip on by belts and power while rolling to stop.  
 
No smoke or fire ever entered the cabin. A testament to a well built car and firewall. I had full visibility at all times. Would be a much different experience otherwise. No fuel was spraying on me. I wasn’t on fire. I realize that my situation was “ideal” for the need to egress. All of which makes me feel it should have been a faster exit.
 
Thank you all to those who reached out during and after.  Hopefully this experience and write up can make all of us safer.
 
Thank you,
 
Hunter
 
 
 

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Edited by friscolaw
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You were in Florida after a hurricane....my guess is an airdrop of napalm wouldn't have lit that grass on fire.  Of everything in that video, that's my only real critique.  Need to get the car far off track or risk getting punted by someone passing another car on the straight.

 

 

As for egress, you were still out in under 15 seconds which is acceptable.  My issue, again, is that you had to escape onto a hot racetrack.  Your life is worth far more than a patch of lawn.

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Don't have much to add to the discussion, but will send this on to all my teammates as a not so subtle reminder before we go racing this weekend.  Thank you very much for posting this.

 

I actually felt like I was watching a horror movie with the suspense as the video progressed.  Making my heart pound.  Glad you got out ok.

 

Cue the egress video to about 30 seconds.  Use this video as a the sound over:

 

 

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10 hours ago, flyinglizard said:

Many of the new AFFF bottles come with 2 cables . The second mounts exterior , rear C pillar etc.

Yes. We have a LIfeline system in the new car and it has two cables/pull-handles. We have one within reach of the driver and the other is at the right rear of the car, mounted in the passenger side of the package tray (we don't have a rear window). You can activate the fire suppression from outside the car and ~10' away from the engine compartment. 

During tech on Saturday, the inspector asked what the handle was, lol. 

S. 

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27 minutes ago, Bill Strong said:

Some teams use a t handle to open up the fuel cell vent for faster filling. That's why they asked what it does.

Fuel fill is on the other side of the car.

 

As for the video.  Can't really say more than has already been said   Pull OFF the track and get to a corner worker station IF possible anytime you break.  They have fire extinguishers there too.  They can help you if you get to them .    Glad you are ok!! 

 

I blew an engine in a previous Viper years ago at Daytona.   I was going about 175-180 at S/F when it went and made it to the T1 corner worker station.   The corner worker was holding the fire bottle up in the air and I pulled up close to him.    I had already loosened my belts while braking and was out of the car as soon as it stopped.  That car didn't have a fire system and the corner worker came out to me with the bottle. The car ended up not actually being on fire just a big fireball out the back when the engine blew.  They didn't take any chances though a sprayed the engine bay down after cracking the hood.   That was fun to clean up.   The corner worker and fire guys actually thanked me for doing what I did and making the situation much easier for them to manage.   Once you get to one guy with a radio the whole safety crew knows whats going on and thats a good thing. 

Edited by Snake
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Keep in mind guys - when he pulled off, the car wasn't on fire.   But I do agree, if you see smoke - get as close to a corner worker w/fire bottle as is safe.  I also say get in the grass if possible  a car can be as deadly as the fire!

 

Overall - I think you did as good as any of us would.   I thought you got out fairly fast - those orange flames would have had my adrenaline going pretty good as well.

IMO, The extinguisher in the car is primarily made to buy the driver more time, it may or may not save the car.  Most of the nozzles should be pointed at the driver and a few are near likely spots of the source.  I don't know where your nozzles are and/or if it would have put out your fire.  But you only get one shot - use it wisely.

 

My only suggestion for you.

Put down your visor.  If the flames come into the cab it may save your life.  One hand on visor, other hand on belt release.

 

If you want to add the extinguisher as a practice.  Leave the pin in and simulate a pull (or push) so it becomes part of your muscle memory so to speak.

 


Thank you for sharing!  

I always tell people we wear all that crap for a reason, it matters and we take it seriously.   All of us can practice egress more and we should have discussions about procedures more often.  Maybe even video our practices may help.

 

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1 hour ago, Bill Strong said:

For the record - Corner workers are not allowed to leave their stations during a race. 

So don't expect the guy to come running to help you. You are basically on your own until the fire truck shows up.

 

I guess different tracks have different rules as at Daytona the corner worker came to me.  If they aren't allowed to leave their stations why are there bottles at each station? If someone has a fire bottle sitting next to them and theres a car on fire in a very close proximity the bottle is going to make it to you.  I've seen it happen. 

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We all see something we can do better next time, if there is a next time. I have been in 2 crashes that I needed to get out fast. The first one was on tape and on the stop watch from the time I heard the BOOM until the first foot touched the ground was 4.7 seconds. That was 1987 and egress practice was unheard of in those days.  But I was obviously prepared that day. I found out all the preparation in the world practicing egress wouldn't have helped me the next time. I lacked a different kind of preparation.

 

The second time I was knocked out and by the time I woke up it was to the smell of gas. The motor was still running and when I put the car in gear to back out of the crash to exit the gas smell I almost ran over an official that was on his knees looking at my cell. I heard him bang on the trunk and I stopped immediately.

 

The point is that I was out for so long that officials had time to get to the car. 15+  seconds. There was fuel leaking from the car I T-Boned. My suit was an SFI/1 and had about 3-5 seconds protection. I was out way longer than that. So that day everything changed for me. I now have about 58 seconds with my current suit. gloves and shoes are another story, closer to 25 seconds. But I would have never  gotten out of that car if fire had started. Some racers have to be saved from themselves by the sanctioning bodies to mandate stringent safety rules for drivers safety equipment. Others have self preservation and do everything they can. Plan for the worst and hope for the best is my motto.

 

I was once on the save me list. Make sure you either leave it or do yourself a favor and step away from the car...

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Thanks for sharing and I'm glad no one was hurt.  One thing we did in the building of our car was to also have both a power disconnect and fire system pull on the outside of the car as well as inside the drivers compartment.  This way if you had to exit quickly as you did the driver or corner worker could set off the fire system. 

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While we are talking about learning experiences (as usual, the thread has evolved a little bit), I will add to the list:

 

I am a renter and showed up for the practice day in a car that was new to me.  I didn't do egress practice because the car was ready when I came in from the airport and I had never seen the track.  The track was "hot" and mostly empty - I figured I could do that practice egress later in the evening when the track was "cold".  I jumped into the car and started learning the track.

 

When I came in after 30 minutes, I couldn't get the belts undone.  The car owner had belted me in, and I didn't know that there was a big flap attached by velcro that covered the latch.  With the helmet and the Hans, I couldn't look down and see it.  I was used to cam locks and latching belts that didn't have a cover, and I struggled for a LONG time before the car owner walked over and released me.  Imagine how that could have gone if there had been an incident involving fire during the session.  I doubt that panic would have improved the results, although I may have ripped my helmet off to get the ability to look down (if that was even an option).

 

Lesson learned:  Do the egress practice before your first lap, even if it is just a practice day......

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@friscolaw glad you made it out alright, dude.  I must've just left for dinner when that happened.   I've spent YEARS at Sebring, although there is good visibility and you were off the line (good job) just pull the dang thing off the pavement. It's safer for you, man.  YOu can build another sweet E30, unless you're RoboCop, we can't build another you.  Glad you're safe, man.  Hope to see you in a seat at the next Chump race here in FL!

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14 hours ago, Racer28173 said:

While we are talking about learning experiences (as usual, the thread has evolved a little bit), I will add to the list:

 

I am a renter and showed up for the practice day in a car that was new to me.  I didn't do egress practice because the car was ready when I came in from the airport and I had never seen the track.  The track was "hot" and mostly empty - I figured I could do that practice egress later in the evening when the track was "cold".  I jumped into the car and started learning the track.

 

When I came in after 30 minutes, I couldn't get the belts undone.  The car owner had belted me in, and I didn't know that there was a big flap attached by velcro that covered the latch.  With the helmet and the Hans, I couldn't look down and see it.  I was used to cam locks and latching belts that didn't have a cover, and I struggled for a LONG time before the car owner walked over and released me.  Imagine how that could have gone if there had been an incident involving fire during the session.  I doubt that panic would have improved the results, although I may have ripped my helmet off to get the ability to look down (if that was even an option).

 

Lesson learned:  Do the egress practice before your first lap, even if it is just a practice day......

This is a great example of knowing your car.

 

I'd hate to be there. 

 

Speaking of hate; That whomp sound when fuel lights off... ugh Very distinctive.

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Thats Crazy, glad you are ok. 

 

This isnt a "shoulda" because I think you did good. 

 

On our cars fire system it has 2 handles, so we installed the second handle at the rear pillar by the rear window for this exact reason, if you dont pull the fire on the inside you can quickly pull it from the outside.  

 

Just a thought for the next build.

 

Best,

 

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8 hours ago, djrocketodd said:

Thats Crazy, glad you are ok. 

 

This isnt a "shoulda" because I think you did good. 

 

On our cars fire system it has 2 handles, so we installed the second handle at the rear pillar by the rear window for this exact reason, if you dont pull the fire on the inside you can quickly pull it from the outside.  

 

Just a thought for the next build.

 

Best,

 

Absolutely.  

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Some tips from the aviation world.  We have Emergency Checklists that include memory items for things like fires.  Create a written checklist, memorize verbetium, then practice in the cockpit to add muscle memory.  The key is to do it exactly the same way, in the same order, everytime.  Don't rush.  Be calm and methodical to ensure a successful outcome.

 

As an example:

FIRE

1. Brakes.........................................Apply, stop off track

2. Electrical Kill Switch ..................OFF

3. Transmission...............................In gear

2.  Fire Handle..................................PULL

3. Harness.......................................RELEASE

4.  Radio Cord..................................Disconnect

5. Cool Suit.......................................Disconnect

6. Steering Wheel.............................RELEASE

7.  Vehicle.........................................Egress

 

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