Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest that was spurred by a recent post on dealing with fire at home. Fire is s serious subject that we often overlook as preppers. Fire fighter resources would be most likely one of the first services to be quickly overwhelmed in a disaster when you look at the number of professionals per-capita. You plan for protecting your home from bad guys if the police aren’t’ there, but do you have the same plan for fire? Fires aren’t all the same though and you need to consider options for different types of fire that could break out and need your attention in a disaster.
Fire is a living breathing animal that consumes everything in its path regardless of wealth or station in life. A forest fire will consume acres or square miles of forest land and anything and everything in its path. If you know what is needed for a fire to live then you can slow it down or even beat it.
Earlier I said a fire is a living animal, first an animal and you need oxygen to live. Being deprived of this, you will soon die, so too with a fire. Deprive it of oxygen by smothering it with a “blanket”, a blanket can be a blanket that has been made wet or a blanket from a dry chemical fire extinguisher or a layer of fire foam. The chemical in a dry chemical fire extinguisher is Baking Soda. Or you can displace oxygen in a room with an inert gas and the fire will soon die or become more manageable. In dealing with inert gases, Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Nitrogen, CF3Br or other gasses remember if it is denying the fire oxygen then it is also denying you oxygen. In 1910 it was discovered that Carbon Tetra-chloride was a good fire extinguishing agent and was widely used by fire departments as late as the late 1940’s when it was learned that when heated, Carbon Tet. formed poisonous phosgene gas.
Another way to kill the animal which is fire is to starve it. Just as you need fuel (food) to live so does a fire need fuel/food to live.
In protecting your house or property from a forest fire you will need a defensive zone of low flammability items around it. Firewood should be stored away from any buildings and in your home flammable items must be kept away from furnaces, fireplaces, wood stoves, heating vents. Don’t run electrical cords under carpets. In a TEOTWAWKI situation many people think they will heat their home using the fireplace in their home. In the Southern more temperate areas this may be possible but in the Northern climates many fire places are not designed for the heat necessary to heat a 2,000 square foot house. The prolonged heat generated will eventually be transferred to the surrounding wall. This is why chimney fires are so dangerous.
The third leg of the life of a fire is heat. Just as you need warmth to live so does a fire need heat to survive. What I just explained is called the “Fire Triangle” deprive a fire of just one side and it dies. If you look at fires there are basically just 4 types of fires Solids, Liquids, Gaseous and Electrical.
Let’s look at Solids. This can be anything from a pile of leaves, newspapers, wood and furniture or metal and chemical. We will discuss metal & chemical later. With solids all you have to do is remove one wall and the fire dies. The easiest way to do this is by cooling. In this case Water goes a long way.
Water when properly used will cool the fire and deprive it of oxygen.
A Fire hose is the most used item in the fire service. … nozzle discharge rating shall be expressed as a rated discharge at a rated pressure [e.g., 60 gpm at 100 psi.] … How many of you have access to a fire truck or fire hose to hook to a hydrant to boost the pressure? Unless you know what you are doing this will get you into trouble and create problems. Your garden hose will have an average of 35 PSI at around 10 Gallon Per Minute. This is considerably less than a fire hose. In a real fire emergency call the professionals but if they are not available then you might be on your own.
I personally feel a regular straight brass nozzle would be the best tool if you only had a garden hose. Many people feel that a solid straight stream is the best way to fight a fire. They get this from watching TV news and all they see is the 3 or 4 inch hose at the end of an aerial ladder. Fire departments usually have the luxury of having a large supply of water and rely on flushing the fire. With a garden hose you must fight smart. Every drop or stream of water you have will be needed to cool the fire so when attacking a fire in a closed area a spray pattern of around 20 degrees is best it gives more fingers of water on the fire.
If you must enter a room you must first test the door and door knob for heat. When opening a door to a room of fire that has not been ventilated by a hole in the wall or broken window it will allow a sudden rush of air/oxygen into the room this will cause what is called by many names, a flash over, back-draft or a fire explosion. When entering door to a hot room it’s best to have a fire hose with a spray pattern covering the door while you and your partner come in very low and you don’t want to just throw the door open you open it just enough to get your nozzle in and create a good HIGH spray pattern into the room and then close the door. If this is done correctly this will create a cloud of steam in the room and as the steam cloud settles it will dampen the fire. After about 30 seconds you then can enter the room and attack the fire. You must always remember the 3 legs of a fire. Lifting a pile of smoldering clothing, towels, mattresses or a sheet of plywood could cause a flare up into your face. The thing to remember water is for solids.
Liquids require a different technique and fire-retardant. When the fried turkey craze first hit many houses were burned because of the overflow of the cooking oil being ignited by the fire. People didn’t pay attention during their physics class in high school and put a turkey into a pot of hot cooking oil and the resulting displacement of the oil. The oil left the pot hitting a heat source and Thanksgiving dinner was canceled. For grease fires remember the Triangle, remove the heat source (If you can) or the oxygen. You never use water on a grease fire if you are cooking with a gas stove try to turn the stove off and then put a lid on the pot or pan. If this is not possible then Baking Soda is to be used. A 5 pound Dry Chemical fire extinguisher should be in every kitchen where it is away from the stove but easily accessible. Mine are at the entrances to the kitchen.
Use a low sweeping motion and sneak up on the fire. Start about 12 inches in front of it and with a sweeping motion move the stream forward, The fire may flare up briefly so be ready for this but don’t panic you will beat the animal. Things to NOT do, don’t put water on grease or oil fires and most of all DO NOT move the pot or pan while it is on fire or for several minutes after you think the fire is out. And above all call the fire department if they are still available. This goes for all flammable liquids, engine oil, gasoline and such.
Next is an electrical fire. These always concerned me since they can be hidden in the walls or floor of a house or apartment.
An electrical fire is caused by basically two issues. A short-circuit or an overload causing the wires to heat. A short-circuit is when the flow of electricity is either reversed ( when jumping a vehicle hooking the positive jumper cable to negative on the battery terminal. Or a wire laying across another wire and chaffing against each other until the bare wires touch, when running a length of wire a staple driven too hard and pinching the insulation on the wire. 2 AM one winter morning the phone rang and the local fire alarm went off for burning odor in a single family house. We looked all over and finally in the crawl space we found a wire that had a staple driven too hard and shorted causing a floor joist to start to char.
With electrical fires never ever use water – it can compound the problem or electrocute you. Always use dry chemical (yea I know CO2 but they are big, heavy & clumsy.) Before you do anything turn the power off to the circuit or if need be the whole building then you can do what is called troubleshooting. No not with a gun but follow the circuits and locate the problem and correct it. This is only after you first address the problem at hand.
Metal and Chemical Fires
I saved the trickiest for last and I will combine several. Metal shavings are flammable, stretch out some steel wool and touch both terminals of a car battery or a C or D cell battery. Chemicals, one Saturday in 1973 the fire alarm went off, Barn Fire at …. When we got there the barn was fully engulfed and the farmer was saying save my pigs, save my pigs. We attacked the fire when a 55 gallon drum exploded and flew 30 feet into the air. This was during the fuel shortages and rationing during the 70’s. The farmer told us that there were 9 more drums in the fire. Soon the man on the lead nozzle handed the position off and ran out with hot feet. Then the next man soon did the same thing and I was holding the line alone. I saw a line of grey mud coming from the barn and knew we were in trouble. There was over a ton of nitrogen fertilizer in the barn. The farmer didn’t tell us about it and the more water we put on the fire in that area the hotter the fire burned.
Metal and chemical fires need trained professionals. Look around your homestead or house and note where the chemicals are. Combining chemicals can cause fires or explosions so be careful with chemicals. But if help isn’t available then once again a dry chemical fire extinguisher only much larger is your choice.
Remember in the event of a TEOTWAWKI event preparation, education and prevention are your best allies.
A fire hydrant has a plug-in the water pipe that must be pushed IN. Hollywood with the erupting water hydrant happens mostly only in the movies yes it does happen in real life but rarely. Remember “Righty Tighty” well with a fire hydrant spinning the wrench counter-clockwise will push the plug down and allow the water to flow out of the hydrant. At the hydrants close to my home on top of them I have painted arrows showing the way to spin the wrench because in a time of crisis you tend to forget things that are not practiced regularly. You do this only after you have your hoses in place. Remember water pressure? Well this is city water and it will be around 35 PSI so you might want to hook up a water pump if you have to go long distances with the water. You will lose pressure to gravity, running up hill, to friction if you have a long line run or if you split one line into two lines your pressure will drop proportionately.
Most hydrants have 3 points to attach a hose. They make an adapter for the large one 4” it gets screwed on and has two outlet ports that are controlled by a lever and ball valve. You can run two lines off of this. With my experience two lines are the minimum needed to fight a fire and usually all that you need.
What you will need is enough hose (line) to run two hoses from the hydrant to the house farthest from your house, not because you like them but stop the fire there before your house catches fire and if it’s your house this will give you enough line to fight the fire in your house, a hydrant wrench, nozzles a pike pole to pull down Sheetrock to get into the fire in the walls.
I did not yet cover gas. Compressed gas such as propane or natural gas creates a much different problem. A 20 pound propane BBQ tank is a bomb. You want to cool the tank a spray pattern is needed for this and if possible close the valve to the tank. If this is not possible and the fire is controlled or out then let the tank vent. I have a lot of training but this area is not one of them and I like dealing with compressed flammable gas less than electricity.
Remember this information is if there is no one coming and you and your neighbors are on your own. Always first call the professionals, the fire department. I want to take time to remind people who live in cold climates that if you use a hydrant to be ready to remove as much water out of the hydrant stand pipe as possible and put anti-freeze in it to keep it from freezing and bursting. As always prevention is worth a pound of cure.
About the author: In 1963 at the age of 14 I fought forest fires part-time for the Pennsylvania Department of Forests and Waters until the age of 17 when I enlisted in the Army. And a volunteer fireman during 1973/4 at Spout Springs, North Carolina. 11 year Army veteran, paratrooper, Vietnam Veteran