Fire Extinguisher

Starting It Is Pretty Easy, But Stopping It Is Not So Easy.


Let’s goes back to the cave man days when our human ancestors needed heat, light and a means to cook their food. The discovery of how to make fire was one of the greatest advances to put man on the journey to survival and civilization. It is believed that lightning strikes that naturally started fires allowed early man to start using that fire for various purposes. Later they found that rubbing sticks together or striking one stone against another could cause a spark which could be grown into a fire by adding kindling.

Cavemen By The Fire
Cavemen Around The Fire | Image by

Today we take it all for granted. We have matches, lighters and other methods of making fire, but what happens when fire is out of our control and needs to be stopped? I wonder what our early ancestors thought when the wonderful fire they made got out of control causing a conflagration that destroyed their meager belongings and much of their habitat? This wondrous thing that was so good could, in just an instant, become an uncontrollable destructive force. I’m sure they tried to put out a fire by throwing dirt on it, but without any way to do that on a large scale or the ability to spray large quantities of water on the flames they were quite powerless to stop it.

Bucket Brigade
Bucket Brigade | Image by

The old fashioned “bucket brigade” was an early means of firefighting. A line of people pass buckets of water by hand from a water trough, pump or creek to the people close to the fire and tossing it on the flames sometimes was effective in dousing the flire, but what about individuals. If a fire started in your cabin or house what could you do? What if you lived on the second or third floor of a building?

Firefighting Pump
Early Firefighting Water Pump | Image by

The early pumping systems firefighters used did not have sufficient water pressure or long enough hoses to reach the higher floors. That’s where this column is headed. I bring this up as a tribute to man’s ingenuity to develop firefighting equipment. I have always wondered where the idea of the portable fire extinguisher arose. Here is what I discovered.

George William Manby
George William Manby | Lithograph by [W. J. C] after Sir T. L
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
According to “The first effective fire extinguisher was invented in 1813 by a man named George William Manby who saw that fire departments had difficulty fighting fires above the first floor of buildings because the old fashioned hoses simply didn’t reach high enough.

Manby Fire Extinguisher
Manby Fire Extinguisher | Image by

To solve the problem he took a 4 gallon tank and added compressed air that when the air was released pushed the water out of the spout of the tank allowing firemen to have portable water tanks to fight fires on second stories and higher. While his first extinguisher didn’t solve every problem it did make firefighting more effective.”

Francois Carlier
Francois Carlier | Photo by

Fire extinguishers have evolved over the years as in 1866 when Francois Carlier used a mixture of tartaric acid and bicarbonate soda instead of compressed air to propel the water. The tartaric acid was replaced by aluminum sulfate and bicarbonate of soda as the propellant in 1905.Take a look inside a fire extinguisher and you can see how the propellant pushes out the water, or dry chemical that is inside the pressurized cylinder.

How It Works
How A Fire Extinguisher Works | Image by

More modern fire extinguishers were developed with an inner cartridge of carbon dioxide as the propellant to expel the water from the container.

Fire Extinguisher Labels
Fire Extinguisher Labels | Image by

Now there are a variety of fire extinguishers that are made to be used on specific kinds of fires. If you use the wrong extinguisher for the type of fire you want to put out you could make the fire grow instead of being extinguished.

Types Of Fire Extinguishers
Types Of Fire Extinguishers | Image by

You need to know the various types of fire extinguishers that are available in order to know which one to use when a fire starts in your home.

How To Use A Fire Extinguisher
How To Use A Fire Extinguisher- PASS | Image by

Now that you better understand fire extinguishers you need to make sure how to use them. The above graphic explains that very simply using the word PASSPull the pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep from side to side. The Fire Department always recommends that you leave your house immediately to seek safety and call 911 to report the fire. They will send professional firefighters to put out the fire. If the fire is very small and you feel you must use your personal fire extinguisher you still need to get everyone out of the house right away. If you do manage to put the fire out yourself you should still let the fire department know so that they could properly inspect the area to make sure the fire is safely and completely extinguished.

If you have an idea for a future topic let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].