To understand how to stop combustion and extinguish a fire, you must first familiarise yourself with the concept of the fire triangle – one of the fundamental principles of fire knowledge and fire safety.
Detailing the basic elements of any fire, the fire triangle (also known as the combustion triangle), provides a simple model of understanding the cause and spread of any fire.
The three elements of the fire triangle simplify but succinctly detail the factors present necessary to cause ignition and sustained growth of fire: fuel, heat and oxygen. The chemical reaction between each of the three elements can only occur when all three are present.
The fundamental principle of the fire triangle is that each element is dependent on the other in the creation and growth of any fire, whilst also demonstrating the complete removal of just one element can prevent a fire or extinguish it entirely.
How to Stop Combustion
When considering fire safety, always recall the fire triangle: fuel, heat and oxygen. Remember that removing just one element of the fire triangle from an ongoing blaze can begin its subsidence. Let’s find out how to stop combustion and extinguish a fire by removing each of the three elements necessary for a fire to burn.
Remove Sources of Fuel
For any fire to begin, there must be a fuel source – martial that burns. Typical combustible materials include paper, wood, fabrics, plastic and various types of gases. The use of fire-resistant materials is beneficial as it means that a would-be fire has no fuel source to feed its growth and spread.
Furniture and clothing can be made with fire-resistant materials, as can the fabrication of building materials.
The removal method is not necessarily the most effective solution at extinguishing the fire, merely to stop the growth and prevent the spread: the fire will continue to burn until the available fuel has been consumed or intervention strategies – such as the removal of heat and/or oxygen – have been implemented.
In practice, forest fires – such as in California or the Australian bush – are effectively managed using a method known as firebreak: removing trees from the surrounding area of a forest fire to isolate and centralise the fire until it burns itself out or is extinguished by the emergency services.
Removing Sources of Heat
When you think of fire, you think of heat. Dampening the heat of the fire is an effective method of weakening and eventually extinguishing a fire. Not only does the element of heat create the potential of the ignition of a fire, but it also contributes to the sustainability of an ongoing fire by removing residual moisture from fuel sources and heating the surrounding areas, creating an easier path of spread.
How does heat contribute to the ignition? Believe it or not, every flammable material emits a flammable vapour, which, when exposed to a great amount of heat, creates combustion.
Fires need oxygen to survive as much as we do: removing a fire’s exposure to oxygen will cause the fire to slowly die. Fire blankets and carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are two effective methods of suffocating a fire and restricting its access to oxygen.
Fires only require a minimum atmospheric air-oxygen level of 16%, meaning that the average ambient level of oxygen – being approximately 21% – is a prime environment for the growth of a fire. Where possible, you should always seek to starve a fire of oxygen, be via smothering it in the most appropriate fire extinguisher type, water, or a covering agent such as dirt.
When evacuating a room or building, it is advisable to shut all the doors if you know that you are the last person to escape: preventing the free movement of oxygen as well as restricting a fresh oxygen inflow from outside.
Extinguishing the Fire
As you can see, going back to basics with the fire triangle can simplify the necessary precautions when we talk about fire safety. To stop a fire, you must remove one element of the fire triangle.
The development of fire extinguishers – and their numerous types – has largely been in part due to the principles of the fire triangle, seeking to remove one of the three key components.
Fire safety training and protocols have also been revised to take heed of the fire triangle, what must be done in case of a fire, as well the necessary planning and steps required to prevent the ignition of fire in the first place. HSE codes of practice on the storage of flammable liquids and the storage/disposal of flammable waste materials – such as textiles and dust – have also been based on the fundamental principles of the fire triangle.
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