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Go back to basics with the Fire Triangle


The source of fire safety

Fire TriangleIt can be tough to comply with fire safety regulations as they’re becoming so stringent and complex. But the rules that are put in place are, of course, there for a reason. And they’re all based on the simple dynamics of the fire triangle. By going back to basics and taking another look at the fire triangle, we can better understand fundamental fire safety regulations.

What is a fire?

A fire is a chemical reaction that occurs when three elements come together at the same time: fuel, heat and oxygen. Fuel contains stored energy. When heated to a certain point, this energy reacts with oxygen, releasing more heat. This reaction continues to work in a continuous cycle. To prevent the cycle from occurring, or to break the cycle, the fuel, heat or oxygen need to be removed. This basically means that preventing and fighting fires is all about keeping oxygen, fuel and heat separate.


What we learned in school

If you remember using a Bunsen burner at school, you might remember opening the ‘collar’ to get a blue flame, and closing it to get an orange one. The reason the flame changed colour is because you were giving the weaker, orange flame less oxygen, while giving the hotter, blue flame more. Looking at this example, you can see how depriving oxygen weakens fires. Without sufficient oxygen, a fire cannot begin or continue to burn.

Starve your fire

Many fire extinguishers work by using this very principle. C02 extinguishers , for instance, work because carbon dioxide is heavier than oxygen. The C02 displaces the oxygen, removing it from the fuel source. Dry powder extinguishers, foam extinguishers and fire blankets all work by smothering a fire to deprive it of oxygen.

Ventilation vs. vacuuming

Some people make the mistake of trying to limit oxygen flows to flammable gases and liquids. However, despite what the fire triangle tells us, it’s sometimes best to keep their storage and usage areas well ventilated. This will distil and diffuse flammable vapours. If unsure, always check manufacturer’s guidelines.


Keep it cool

When safeguarding your environments from fires, isolating heat sources is a good place to start. For instance, it’s important to keep flammable substances away from radiators, out of direct sunlight and away from other sources of heat. Often, ‘sources of ignition’ and ‘heat’ are seen as being separate things, which can be extremely confusing. They need to be treated as the same thing; it’s crucial that anything hot, or anything that produces sparks are kept well away from flammable or combustible items.

Understanding flash points

A flash point is the lowest temperature at which the liquid vapours of a flammable or combustible fluid could ignite. Basically, it’s how much heat is needed for a fire to begin. It’s important that you store flammable and combustible fluids at a temperature that’s below their flash point. In doing this, you are removing heat from the fire triangle.

Watered down solutions

Many would argue that removing heat is the simplest, and the most affordable way of extinguishing fires. It’s true that water extinguishers are the cheapest to buy and replace. They work by simply using water to cool a fire. Sprinkler systems are proving to be an effective way of intercepting the spread of fire time and time again.


The start of the equation

When a fire ignites, the first chemical reaction that takes place is that between fuel and heat. It makes sense, then, to keep potential fuel sources separated from sources of heat. There are three types of fuel; solid fuel, liquid fuel and gas fuel.

Storing and using flammable gases

• Ensure gas canisters are positioned upright on steady grounding • When storing, restrain cylinders using a chain • Keep them in approved storage cabinets that are equipped with sprinklers • When possible, store them in a room that’s from other materials • Store them well away from doors, exits and stairways • Cap cylinders when they’re not in use • Keep full cylinders away from empty ones • If there is a dent or any other sign of damage, return the cylinder at once • Ensure the cylinders and gas pipes are correctly labelled • Use flammable gases in a well-ventilated area to dilute vapours • Use the correct gas regulator and flow restrictors to control gas release • Keep them away from sparks and flames • Make sure they’re kept at a temperature below their flash point • Have flashback protectors installed • Use a trap or suitable check valve when discharging gas into a liquid • Use cylinders that are as small as possible

Storing and using flammable liquids

• Keep them in a well-ventilated storage cabinet • Keep containers positioned upright on a steady surface • When possible, store them in a separate room from other materials • Store them well away from doors, exits and stairways • Keep them away from sources of ignition and hot surfaces • Make sure they’re kept at a temperature below their flash point • Use small quantities if you can • Dispense liquids over a tray

Get a solid grounding

Flammable solids are specifically dangerous when it comes to the spread of fire, one of the biggest culprits being upholstered furnishings. Finished products that have flammable components should be kept away from gangways and exits, along with product packaging. You might be interested to know, that UK fire statistics show that over 800 fires in commercial buildings are caused annually by space heating appliances alone. Keep sources of heat well away from clothing, paper, furnishings, carpeting…anything that could ignite. When working with flammable materials, it’s important that you also look at guidelines provided by the manufacturer and the government too.

Exchange is always preferred

Regardless of the precautions you take, it is always safest to see if you can exchange flammable substances for non-flammable alternatives.

Fighting a fire by removing fuel

There are several ways to remove fuel from a fire. You can do it manually, chemically or mechanically. Wet chemical extinguishers are an example of a how fuel can be chemically removed. They work by applying a chemical additive to oils and fats, which turns their surface into a non-combustible soap. Mechanical movement of fuel is a technique generally favoured when combating forest fires; trees are removed and shredded to control the spread of fire. While this isn’t suitable in the work place, you can use the same principle to manually control the spread of fire. For instance, it’s important to ensure there are no sources of fuel blocking exit routes. Similarly, you can ensure flammable liquids and gases are contained, with no leakages. This will also slow the spread of fire.

Taking the fire triangle to your business

It’s easy to fall into bad habits when it comes to fire safety. But by being a little more mindful of the elements involved in a fire, you can take the necessary measures to keep them separate and reduce your risk. Image source: Wikipedia.

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