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After tragic limo fire, bill filed to require extinguishers

California State Sen. Jerry Hill

SAN FRANCISCO–Following the limousine inferno that recently claimed the lives of five Filipinos on the San Mateo Bridge, state Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) on Monday introduced a bill requiring limousines with a seating capacity of fewer than 10 passengers to be equipped with readily accessible and fully charged fire extinguishers.

Once law, Senate Bill No. 338, co-authored by state Sen. Leland Yee, limousines will no longer be exempted from the fire extinguisher provision, which buses with more than 10 passengers are currently required to follow.

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The bill further states: “To ensure the limousine-using public are protected with fire extinguishers at the earliest possible time, it is necessary for this act to take effect immediately.”

On May 5, a limousine carrying nine passengers on their way to a bridal shower suddenly caught on fire while traveling on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge.

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The driver escaped unharmed and four of the passengers escaped through the driver’s partition. Tragically, the five other passengers died in the blaze. The limousine did not have a fire extinguisher.

In the bill’s language, limousines are defined as including “any sedan or sport utility vehicle, of either standard or extended length, with a seating capacity of not more than 10 passengers including the driver, used in the transportation of passengers for hire on a prearranged basis within the state.”

In urging Senate to pass the bill, Sen. Hill said, “This act is an urgency for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety within the meaning of Article IV of the Constitution and shall go into immediate effect. ”

Extinguishers currently not required

The Passenger Charter-party Carriers’ Act tasks the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) with regulating and issuing certificates for charter-party carriers, including limousines. The Act is intended to “promote carrier and public safety.”

A limousine is generally considered a vehicle for hire on a prearranged basis with a seating capacity of no more than 10 passengers. A vehicle with a seating capacity of more than 10 passengers is defined as a bus. Under the law, buses must undergo a CHP safety inspection and are required to be equipped with a readily accessible and fully charged fire extinguisher. Limousines are not.

Under the current law, limos with fewer than 10 people aboard do not have to go through regular CHP safety inspection. Those with fewer than eight passengers are not required to have fire extinguishers. Last week, Sen. Hill announced his intention to change this exemption.

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“We’re going to introduce a bill,” he said, “that will require fire extinguishers at least, as a minimum to start out…or require fire extinguishers in the passenger compartment area of every limousine in the state.”

Limo industry shaken

The limo tragedy sent a shock wave through the local limousine industry, and owners and operators are now reviewing their safety procedures.

Jim Judy Love, owner of Hanford-based Love Limousine Service, told INQUIRER.net that he supported the proposed bill: “It’s a good thing. In fact, we doubled our capacity– We put two fire extinguishers in the cockpit of the driver’s area.”

Love, said that to ensure further safety, he holds constant briefings with his drivers and he sees to it that the company meets the standards set by the California Public Utility Commission and the California Highway Patrol. “I hold random drug test for drivers,” he added.

He doesn’t think passage of the requirement would lead owners to raise rate prices for hiring limousines: “I’m not going to raise prices.”

“I hope it never happens again,” said Love. “We need to take steps on our own–we should not only watch our cars but we should watch people we move.”

Efforts to get reactions from other limo owners such as Black Tie Transportation Worldwide, were unsuccessful. “(There’s) nobody to comment on that,” said a dispatcher for the limo service, who would only give his name as “Greg.”

Meanwhile, the California Nurses Association (CNA) and the National Nurses United (NNU), are among supporters who are raising funds for the families of the victims.

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TAGS: car accidents, car fires, fire extinguishers, limousines
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