Saturday, 13 October 2012

Playing with fire

The past several weeks I've been doing fire warden training. Our first session was all sorts of theory about fire -- commonsense stuff about "the fire triangle", which is constructed of oxygen, fuel and heat. Take one away and the fire is gone...

They showed us videos of how fast fires can get out of control, the most memorable being the video of a famous stadium fire from the 1970s or 80s (I can't remember the name now), which flared from cigarette butt to entire stand ablaze within about 2 minutes. That particular disaster evidently led to a whole renewal of fire safety regulations. Safety features like fire exits and fire extinguishers were introduced. Had fire extinguishers been available, the flare up would have been put out when it was still small.

The main point, though, was making us aware of standard emergency procedures, making us aware of what can happen and how to react in various situations. And to STAY SAFE under all circumstances.

The second session was fire extinguisher training. They got us out there in the carpark with a tray full of fuel in water, set it alight, and had us take turns in putting out the fire. We practised with pressurised water, foam, carbon dioxide and chemical powders... Then a fire blanket.

All our fire fighting efforts (overseen by representatives of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade) were based on the principle of removing one of the "sides" of the fire triangle -- either heat or oxygen.

Finally, our third session was a full site evacuation, which happened this last week. My role was to sweep a certain section of the building, check rooms were clear, and close doors. (And I've just realised I missed the second set of bathrooms -- oops!) The MFB briefed us before and after, critiqued our procedures and gave us some things to work on... Communication methods being a big one to sort out. In emergency situations you're not supposed to rely on mobile phones.

I've enjoyed broadening my horizons with fire warden training -- and I would have said I hope I never to have to use it... But my new knowledge has already been put to the test!

A couple of weeks ago, we had a family gathering at my parents' house, and a kitchen fire flared up. It seems a plastic container had somehow found itself on a hotplate, and it burst into flame. We were all gathered at the kitchen table, waiting for the coffee to percolate, when the flames were spotted. It must have only just started, because it wasn't long before the kitchen was filled with acrid smoke.

But I had just done my training! My father grabbed the handily placed fire extinguisher, but I stopped him from using that right away (because it would have made an awful mess), and grabbed an apron with which to smother. It wasn't as effective as a fire blanket would have been, but it was close to hand. I edged up to the fire as we'd been shown and dropped it on top. Then my mother grabbed a towel and added that on top. (A small hiccup occurred when the hotplate, which we thought we'd turned off, turned out not to be turned off...and we almost had it flare up again.) The plastic container was shoved onto the floor, wrapped in its apron and towel, and the roll of paper towelling -- in such close proximity it's remarkable it didn't go up in flames -- was also removed.

All in all, we managed to deal with it, with only one slightly panicked and shrieking child ready to evacuate the house. (The rest were playing kick to kick, oblivious, outside.) I did send dad up into the ceiling to make sure no flaming embers had gone up the flue into the roofspace -- as the firemen said they did when called to house fires, even after they've been put out. Apparently this can lead to a housefire hours after the kitchen incident. In our case, all was clear.

This has all taught me to make sure smoke detectors are in working order and to install a fire blanket in the kitchen -- preferably away from the stove. I just couldn't believe this happened less than a week after I'd done my fire extinguisher training!

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