Fire, one of natures magnificent elements, used for cooking, heating and even entertainment purposes, but it can also be a deadly foe. Did you know it only takes minutes for an established fire to spread through your home, but its often not the fire that would ultimately kill you first… its the smoke, vapors, fumes and gases produced by the fire and the decomposition of its fuels that can take your life before the fire even has a chance to take hold…
Many toxins can be produced from an active fire, some of which include: carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, heat, aldehydes and acrolein (from burning wood/cellulose) and in our current way of living with multi possessions, these items can contain Polyurethane(PU), and the many chemicals used to make synthetics which are also in our carpets, furniture coverings, curtains, cushions, floor lacquers, toys, tvs, etc… in a word DEADLY when exposed to fire/high heat.
All of the items in our homes and the homes themselves have different rates of heat tolerance till they start to produce vapors which can ignite, aka flash point, the point at which items can no longer sustain and then combust. Flash over is when all the items in the room have produced enough vapors which all ignite at once, including the smoke plume which by this point has accumulated in the ceiling head space, even carpets which also produce vapors from all the heat from the active fire will ignite. There are plenty of examples YouTube showing demonstrations of flash point and subsequent flash over, please check them out.
A burning vehicle can be deadly in its own right, synthetics and natural fibers decompose in heat to become a dangerous cocktail of gases strong enough to extinguish a persons life in minutes, even seconds. The danger can also be present for some time after the fire has long been extinguished.
So what can we do to protect ourselves in the event of an outbreak of a fire? Its something we’ve been told for years now, so why do so many people still perish in such preventable situations? Many factors need to be considered here, sadly the gases emitted from fires cannot be detected by the human nose while we are in deep sleep as our body shuts off certain systems so that we may rest, one of these is the sense of smell, and while we are sleeping is usually when most fires break out and get a foot hold, this is why we all should have smoke detectors.
Smoke detectors can save lives, but with so many different ones available, which ones are the best to have, and where should they be placed? Ionization or Photoelectric? in short, the DUAL which has both! and if you can only get one, the Photoelectric is the best! (I also recommend at least one CO-carbon monoxide detector, as CO is a silent scentless killer).
There are lots of “smoke detectors”, ones that will detect smoke at low rates and raise an alarm to alert you to the impeding fire, while these are good, they are not the best detectors to have, with all the gases being produced at the same time the smoke is entering your hallways, its the gases that can kill you so a DUAL Photoelectric/Ionization detector is the best choice, the Photoelectric sensor will “see” the smoke activity before the smoke is detected alarming earlier, eg, smoldering, and slow moving fires, and the ionization element of the alarm will detect fast moving fires and could save your life.
URGENT-To check which one you currently have, take the battery case back off and if you have a nuclear symbol and no “eye/camera” on the front, it is an ionization detector, get a Photoelectric or a dual Photoelectric/Ionization detector” instead!!! and if you cannot reach your alarm, and you do not have anyone you can ask for assistance, Im sure you can go to your local Fire Brigade and ask for help, prevention is key.
It is also imperative that you become familiar with the upkeep of the detectors, i change the batteries twice a year, and i find the best time to do this as its easy to remember is daylight saving changes, on the days that the clocks change, so do my detector batteries, i always use good long life alkaline, NOT Lithium! Lithium batteries can be unsafe in their own right, but that is a topic for another day (and oh boy, are you all in for a shock!) in short Lithium batteries, when they fail WILL vent with flames (and yes, you all have lithium batteries in your phones, ipods, ipads etc.. so look after them, even a hard thud can disrupt the inner workings and reactions in a lithium battery, and depending on what other elements are used to make the battery, eg. Li-Po [lithium polymer], can make this reaction worse, there are some lithium battery combinations that inherently safer, eg Li-Mn[lithium manganese] which vent with high heat not flames, and see, iv e gone off in that tangent, ok, back to topic, if you want more info on battery safety, please message and I will write a piece on those). And always replace your detectors by the stated expiry dates!
Also, that annoying “BEEP” you may hear could be your detector telling you the battery is need of a change, DO NOT IGNORE THIS, IT WILL GO AWAY and you WILL forget it needed doing!
I find the best placement for detectors is this: Dual detectors in all bedrooms, lounge rooms/living rooms, laundry, basement, dining room etc, I would also recommend a Carbon Monoxide detector to be placed in your hallways and if you have a basement, one in there also. I do not use detectors within the space of a kitchen as they do like to applaud cooking at times, and then get pulled down and sometimes forgotten, so one outside the doorway is usually where i put mine. If you have ducted heating or AC in your home, the detectors in each room will earn their worth as fire can travel much faster due to the ducts connecting the rooms, especially roof space ducts.
Fire safety is not something to be ignored, it can and does happen to anyone, one small fire coal displaced from a fireplace can sit and smolder for hours on end till it produces enough heat to produce vapors around itself to ignite the surrounding surfaces, wiring can be corrupt and smolder within walls, even large piles of leaves and or garden mulch can decompose deep within the pile and smolder till it ignites, and if its beside your home or garage can lead to disaster!
One important thing to note, fuel does not burn, VAPORS do… so please, be safe, make a check list and follow it, make sure all is turned off at night, if you have an open fireplace, make sure its out or well guarded, and please, please, do not put items too close to a heat source, no matter how safe you think you are by being close to “keep” an eye on Aunt Mildred’s washing as it dries quicker, her lovely polyester pants may heat enough to help you fall asleep and then OOOPS up she goes… DO practice fire drills, have a plan, always have a plan, a fire will cause chaos on a grand scale, so a plan will bring order and a clear mind.
“Get down Low and Go Go Go”!
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask and ill answer to the best of my abilities.