Fire is a chemical chain reaction. It is the transformation of a “Fuel’s” heat released gasses in combination with oxygen while being in the presence of a heat source; resulting in ignition. Bear in mind that the air we breathe is 21% oxygen. Consequently keeping the air out causes the fire to die. Fire causes the rapid reorganization of the chemical
compounds that comprise the fuel, hence transforming the original chemical compounds into entirely different chemical compounds. These new chemical compounds are highly toxic and are concentrated in the smoke. A vast majority of the time it is the smoke that kills rather than the fire itself.
More and more, our homes are filled with synthesized carbon based materials – plastics, rubbers, synthetic fabrics, cleaning solutions, oils, paint, electronics such as TV set and computers. Today’s homes are brimming with complex fire fuels. When these fuels are heated they release gases, it is these gases that actual fuel the fire. Think about a candle – it is not the wick that is burning; it is the paraffin gasses that come off of the wick that are burning. The oxygen from the air combines with the paraffin gas to make fire possible.
Gases are emitted from heated plastics and other synthetic materials as they burn and turn into “Products of Combustion”(gases such as Carbon Monoxide, Hydrogen Cyanide, and Formaldehyde are among the most common examples). Smoke not only contains these gases but also particles of incomplete combustion. Carbon Monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas. It kills when we breathe it in and it combines with the hemoglobin in our lungs at a rate more than 200 times faster than the oxygen in the air. The cells of our body die without the oxygen needed for healthful functioning.
The lesson we will hopefully take from this information is how important it is to take our Life Safety Codes seriously. Our codes are written as the result of lessons learned from many tragedies over many years. Please make sure you, your friends, co-workers and family have the life saving advantage of a complete fire alarm and notification system, as well as a well-rehearsed plan for escape. Proper planning and precautionary measures - especially when it comes to children and the elderly – can mean the difference between death and life.
Please let me know what you think,
Felix Giannini, FPE, CPP