As humans, we cannot live without fire. The discovery of fire by our early ancestors has significantly advanced human society. Fires helped cook our food, enabling nutrients to be better absorbed for more brainpower. Fire also provided warmth and has been the main tool we used in creating more advanced technology. (1)
While fire can be helpful, it also comes in a form when it becomes destructive. Fire, when out of control, or accidental in nature, yields irreparable damage, such as the loss of life.
In fact, structural fires are so destructive that $11.1 million-worth of the property was damaged in the year 2018, in US alone. (2) Structural fires claim seven lives EVERYDAY, on average, as stated by the National Fire Prevention Association. That is seven people dying from a preventable disaster every single day. (3)
Because accidental fires are so destructive to both human life and livelihood, we try our best to extinguish such fires in a small amount of time to prevent further damage. We even have professionals that deal with such fires — they are called firefighters — on standby, ready to respond to any kind of fires. Additionally, fire prevention and fire extinguishing technology are installed in our homes and buildings.
Let’s take a look at 5 of the most common methods that we use to put out fires.
1. Removing oxygen from the system
This particular fire-extinguishing method is mostly used for small, kitchen fires. Interestingly enough, most house fires come from small kitchen fires. (4)
We’ll be getting a bit technical for a minute — but this is vital information that might save your life one day.
There are three components that should be present in order for a fire to occur: heat, fuel (anything that can catch on fire) and lastly, oxygen. If any of these components are not present or are removed, then you can effectively put out a fire. (5)
Image source: https://fireprotectiononline.co.nz/fire-triangle/
Removing oxygen from fires can be done by putting a lid (if the fire started from a small container like a pot) and closing the doors and windows, which will significantly diminish the oxygen present in the system. (4)
2. Sprinkling baking soda or salt
This method is most recommended by authorities to be used on grease fires that start in the kitchen, too. While the science behind is somewhat related to the first-mentioned method, we thought it would be more beneficial to everyone to discuss this method separately. (6)
Grease fires can become a disaster if you try to put it out with water. That’s when sprinkling baking soda or salt comes in handy. The powdery substance works well by smothering the fire with carbon dioxide, effectively putting it out. (6)
It is worth noting that baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate is the same substance that is found inside fire extinguishers. Essential, baking soda is the raw and drier form of a fire extinguisher. (7)
Salt, and even sand, works the same way by basically burying the fire. That’s why most rooms in buildings have “fire buckets” filled with sand. (8)
3. Using water
One of the most popular ways that people use to put out fires is by pouring water on it. Water is excellent at absorbing heat energy. And, when you spray water on high-temperature fires, it effectively reduces the temperature of that fire and vaporizes water. Vaporizing water requires a lot more energy from the air and materials. This is the same science on how a water mister helps you control the heat on a barbecue grill. (9)
Now that water vapor is present in the system, it makes it easier to asphyxiate the fire. The water vapor expands and creates a “blanket” that serves as a barrier from the fire to the surrounding oxygen. (9)
Now, you have successfully removed the oxygen and heat from the fire.
4. Using a fire extinguisher
One of the most delightful modern-day inventions is fire extinguishers. Present at almost every building, fire extinguishers are the best go-to first aid fire extinguishing methods. When the fire is small and easily manageable, fire extinguishers can usually do the trick.
There are various types of fire extinguishers that are used for different types of fire. The most common type is a soda-acid fire extinguisher that contains sodium bicarbonate and a flask of acid. When the acid is broken,a chemical reaction occurs that produces frothy water. (6)
When confronted in a situation where you need to use a fire extinguisher, know how to use it properly. First, pull the pin that will break the tamper seal. Aim the nozzle low, at the base of the fire. Press down on the handle to release the substance inside the tank and use sweeping motions until the fire dies out. (10)
5. Using wet towels or blankets
Another effective way of putting out small fires is by smothering it with a wet cloth. This works the same way as spraying water to the fire. It simply prevents the fire from receiving more oxygen from the atmosphere. The blanket acts as a barrier while the water turns into water vapor that further prevents oxygen from getting into the fire. (11)
DO NOT swat fire with an apron or any dry cloth. You risk fanning the flames to spread which will only make things worse. That’s movie magic when a handsome man puts out fire with his jacket. (12)
The list here is quite scarce as fire extinguishing methods are not that strengthened because authorities focus more on preventing fires rather than putting them out.
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