We often talk about all the things to do to prepare for the worst. Whether it’s eco-collapse, terrorism, natural catastrophe-whatever, we also have to think about protecting ourselves from fire. No, not a super volcano, but the ordinary everyday stuff that could just as easily kill you or your family. Some will tell you to buy your own fire gear and truck on e-bay and some will say don’t even try; I’m hopefully going to fall in-between somewhere in the realm of common sense.
After twenty years in the business, I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two. I’ve worked in several states and trained guys from around the country. I get the regional differences in construction-from the Northeast to the plains of the West, homes and materials will differ. This will be an overall view that covers them all; I mean…fire is fire. Right?
First of all let’s take this back to grade school chemistry. Fire needs three things to work-to make the Fire Triangle. It needs heat, fuel, and oxygen. All we have to do is remove one of those items and we break the triangle, so to speak, extinguishing it. In a TEOTWAWKI situation we can assume we’ll be working with wood, propane, flammable liquids, etc. These will be the things that heat our food and homes and power the things that make our lives easier. All these things can be easily classified as an A, B, or C type fire. There are a few other ones, but we’ll stick with the basics. Once we understand what kind of fire I’ve got it will dictate how we need to put it out.
Class A-ordinary combustibles (paper,wood,plastics,etc)
Class B-flammable liquids or grease (kitchen fires,gas,diesel,oil)
Class C-electrical fire (really a Class A or B with electricity)
These are the common fires that will destroy all that you have worked so hard to build and preserve. How do we fight these you ask? Well, to be honest, prevention. That is your greatest weapon in combating fires, especially in a world where the fire department and EMTs will not be showing up in the shiny red trucks. Wow…great advice you say; but this is truly the very best advice. Imagine dealing with a burned out house and no more supplies, the ones you so diligently socked away for your family to live off of for who knows how long, and then tell me it’s not solid advice. Be mindful of how you store things. Monitor heat sources and open flames. Are you using a jerry rigged stove to cook off of in the house? It’s ok that you are-just be careful doing it! Where’s my gas and diesel stored? Are there fumes and vapors that could ignite from a nearby heating source? Is my rigged chimney going to start a fire by conduction to the roof? Do I still have smoke detectors in my home that work (you can buy a ten year smoke detector that is very dependable-no nine volts to deal with)? These are all the kinds of things you have to be absolutely vigilant about.
Ok, Ok. Now that you got the speech, let’s talk about how to put out some of these fires. Your typical ABC extinguisher from the big box is a decent start. Actually, having multiple ABCs posted at the exits to a room is a better start. Most small common household fires can be extinguished with one. Knowing how to use one is the key. A great website for step-by-step instructions is http://fireextinguisher.com. The best way to remember the steps for using one is P A S S. It means:
P ull-pull the safety pin from the extinguisher
A im-aim at the base of the fire-do not aim at the flames
S queeze-squeeze the handle of the extinguisher
S weep-move the nozzle in a sweeping motion back and forth
Your extinguisher will only have about 10-15 seconds of agent to use, depending on the size. If you can’t put the fire out with the one extinguisher, it may be time to leave. Remember-fire can double every 30 seconds to a minute. That means a waste basket fire can engulf an entire room in just a couple of minutes. And it’s not just the fire; what about the smoke? Just about everything made for today’s housing market is produced with petro-based chemicals. From the foam in your couch to the glue in your countertops; it’s all basically solid fuel waiting to burn. That smoke is TOXIC. Even if you are successful at putting out the fire, you may get a big lung full of that smoke and it is deadly. Most American fire deaths do not occur from the fire, but the smoke inhalation. Here’s where most folks say, ”Hey, I’ll just buy a breathing apparatus like the firefighters use and I’ll be ok.” Please don’t. Without really knowing how to use one, in conjunction with proper turnout gear, you will just end up with a false sense of security that will get you killed. On average we lose 100 American firefighters a year due to fires; and these are guys who have trained for YEARS to do the job. So, please stick with the basics-if this extinguisher won’t work-get out. Always have a way out; don’t let the fire get between you and an exit. If it is spreading too quickly don’t even try; it’s not worth trying one extinguisher if it’s not going to help.
There are other kinds of extinguisher that may be helpful. A pressurized water extinguisher can be a tremendous tool in fighting fire. They hold about 2.5 gallons of water and are pressurized with regular air from a compressor. Here’s the warning-they can only be used for Class A fires. If used in a grease or flammable liquid fire, they will only splatter and spread the fire and possibly splatter the fire on you. They are also definite no-no for Class C electrical fires. If you spray a solid stream of water into energized equipment on fire, you might as well just go stick your finger in a light socket and get it over with. The power MUST be killed before you can properly fight an electrical fire. CO2 extinguishers are also good and don’t leave a mess, but are expensive and must be filled and maintained by expert. They are also very forceful and can sometimes just push the flames around if not used correctly. Some homes today even have residential sprinklers. They are low pressure sprinklers that use domestic water pressure-the same as the pressure from your faucet. If you have a spring or well, and have rigged for water pressure, these could be a real life saver. There also is a Class K extinguisher for restaurant kitchen/grease fire use, and is very effective, but once again they are very expensive and must be maintained by professionals. One last tool is a Chimfex chimney fire extinguisher. It looks and activates like a road flare, and is then thrown in to the firebox. It uses a chemical agent to smother the fire in the chimney.
So, now that all that has been thrown at you, how about we look at a simple guide to help clear the water.
Is it small enough to fight with an extinguisher?
If NO then make sure everyone is out and retreat!
If YES, then retrieve the proper extinguisher. Make sure the exit is not blocked and everyone else is clear. Remember to PASS
PULL the pin
AIM the nozzle at the base of the fire
SQUEEZE the handle to activate
SWEEP the nozzle back and forth at the base of the fire
If it has been effective then you may opt to use a second extinguisher or other means to finish the fire.
If your actions were not effective, then retreat and leave the area!
Options for common fires
Kitchen/grease fire-options-cover with pan lid, smother with a wet dish towel, use baking soda (not flour, etc), use an ABC or BC extinguisher, CO2
Propane heater/stove, etc-options-cut off fuel supply-use ABC extinguisher for remaining fire
Electrical-options-cut power to equipment-use ABC or BC extinguisher, CO2
Chimney/Stove-options-use commercially available Chimfex chimney extinguisher-use ABC from above or below
Ordinary combustibles-options-use ABC or pressurized water extinguisher
As always, common sense rules in these cases. Only you can make the decision to fight a fire in your home in a SHTF event. If the little voice in your head says leave, then leave! Firefighters often use the same little voice and it has saved many lives. I would never advise the untrained to buy gear and breathing apparatus; there are too many ways to die. As earlier stated, PREVENTION is the key. A smoke detector could be the cheapest and easiest of these preventions. Multiple ABC extinguishers mounted near exits are a great line of defense, just be prudent and remember that the smoke can be just as dangerous as the fire. You can eventually replace your home and supplies, but not you. YOU are what keeps your family or group moving and living. Just keep that in mind when making the tough decisions.
This info is to be used at the reader’s risk and is in no way the only means by which to handle these situations. You and you alone are responsible for your family’s and your own welfare. Fire fight at your own risk!