Friday, August 7, 2009

Vacuum Fire Extinguisher

So I've been thinking about fire suppression lately. When things catch fire, that's a hazard to all people and property nearby. Fire, like a triangle, collapses without one if its three supports. For fire, that's fuel, heat, and oxygen.
Removing the fuel is hard to do. Take yourself, anything paper, wood, foam, or pretty much anything but stone and steel, out of the area. Too much work in an office environment. Removing the heat is hypothetically possible, with some sort of cryogenic nitrogen system abruptly chilling the burning materials well below their combustion points. (This has safety issues. Any human hit by such cold liquids would get at least massive cold burns.) Then, removing oxygen has been the traditional technique, using water, or carbon dioxide, or inflammable foam, or something that displaces the oxygen.
Well, how about I take that idea to its illogical extreme? When a fire erupts in your office, you haul everything alive outside, lock the doors, and pull a switch. This switch, noting that the door is locked, sucks 99% of the air out of the office, which leaves not quite enough oxygen for the fire. It quickly burns out. When unlocking the door, air once again bursts in, making the office once again habitable.
This would probably have the same problems as old-fashioned halon extinguishing systems, minus the environmental damage. Namely, people could die if the system is falsely triggered, as they are suddenly without the oxygen they need to breathe. I can't find any records of such an accident with halon, but I would like the safety features of this reviewed.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good idea but devices that have air in them would also explode, let alone human beings. Generaly, according to classical mechanics, if there is a vacuum on earth, that is a bad thing . The air outside the room would suddenly press the walls with a pressure of 10^5 Newtons per square meter. That is the way vacuum bombs function. So unless the office is in a submarine, that is a bad idea...

Professor Preposterous said...

You'd basically have to make the office endure 24 pounds per square inch of pressure instead of 12. It can be done. It might be a problem if the balloon storage room catches fire, but most things that can catch fire can withstand vacuum without much of a problem if they're powered off.

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