What are Throwable Fire Extinguishers and Why are They Useful?

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A student protester was recently seen throwing a regular fire extinguisher. While this may seem alarming, it is important to note that this is not the same as a fire extinguisher designed for putting out fires.
© Stringer/Chile/Reuters/Corbis

Advertisements on late-night TV would have us believe that the average person is incapable of even the simplest tasks without causing chaos. This begs the question: how can we be trusted with putting out fires?

During an emergency, it is not the time to realize that fire extinguishers require proper storage, maintenance, and usage. Additionally, it is important to choose the correct extinguisher for the type of fire. Despite laws mandating workplaces and homes to stock extinguishers, training in proper maintenance and usage is not always required.

This is a complex problem that firefighters have been grappling with for centuries. As firefighting evolved into a science, it became clear that we needed more portable extinguishers and a wider array of substances to tackle different types of fires. Firefighting grew from an avocation to a science, and one of its laws stated that hesitation and bad decisions do more harm than good.

It is clear that firefighting should not be left to amateurs unless necessary and, in such cases, the devices they use should be as simple as possible.

Some companies have revived the idea of the fire grenade and turned it into a simple, nontoxic, and eco-friendly throwable fire extinguisher. The throwable extinguisher comes in two forms: a breakable ampul or a heat-activated ball. Both are lightweight and easy to throw or roll, making them accessible for everyone.

Throwable ampuls react with fire to generate smothering gases and foam, while fire extinguishing balls scatter dry chemicals. Although they both cover similar territory, their approaches differ.

The Science Behind Fighting Fires

To understand the usefulness of throwable fire extinguishers, it is important to understand what goes into fighting a fire.

Fire is simply a fast, hot form of oxidation, which involves fuel, heat, oxygen, and an uninhibited chemical reaction. These four elements form the fire tetrahedron, which, when heated to its ignition temperature in an oxygen environment, creates fire. Fire burns, creating more heat and setting new materials ablaze, feeding back into the system and keeping the reaction going.

The act of firefighting involves extinguishing fires, which can vary in their compositions and require different techniques. Fire classifications, used by the United States and other countries, are based on the fuel’s composition and include Class A for familiar combustibles, Class B for flammable and combustible liquids, Class C for electrical and fuel combined, Class D for combustible metals, and Class K for cooktop and industrial fryer fires. Fighting fires requires years of training and expertise, as different fires respond differently to various methods. For example, water works well on Class A fires but can make grease and Class C fires more dangerous. Class B fires require foam barriers, and Class D fires require sand or salt-based powders. Fire extinguishers have limitations, and throwable fire extinguishers, known as fire grenades, were used in the late 19th century but fell out of favor due to their poisonous carbon tetrachloride content. Fire departments use a series of codes to respond to fires, with a higher number indicating a larger response. The origin of this system may have been during the telegraph era when firefighters communicated via special call boxes.

Despite the advancements in firefighting technology, some ideas still persist. One such idea is the throwable fire extinguisher. Various companies offer different products, such as the Elide Fire Extinguishing Ball from Thailand, which explodes after a few seconds of exposure to fire and scatters extinguishing agents. Malaysia’s Linnovate Technology provides the SOTERIA Throwable Fire Extinguisher, a plastic bottle that shatters and releases organic and inorganic salts when dropped from 3 feet. Bonex, another Malaysian company, has products that handle Class A, B, and C fires. All three companies claim that their products contain eco-friendly and nontoxic chemicals, have a five-year shelf life, and are legal for use in various countries. Early firefighting devices were buckets, but the modern hand-held fire extinguisher was invented by Capt. George Manby in 1817. While throwable extinguishers may appear simpler to use, it is crucial to act quickly in a fire emergency and use the appropriate device.

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1. What would possess someone to throw a fire extinguisher?

There are a few possible reasons why someone might throw a fire extinguisher. One is frustration or anger, such as if they are in a stressful situation and feel like they can’t do anything else to solve the problem. Another reason might be a lack of understanding of the potential consequences and danger of throwing a heavy object like a fire extinguisher.

2. Is throwing a fire extinguisher ever justified?

No, throwing a fire extinguisher is never justified. Not only is it dangerous and potentially lethal, but it also puts others in danger by creating a hazard in the area. There are always safer and more appropriate ways to handle a difficult situation.

3. What are the consequences of throwing a fire extinguisher?

The consequences of throwing a fire extinguisher can be severe. If someone is hit by the extinguisher, they could suffer serious injury or even death. Additionally, the extinguisher could break or damage property, creating a new hazard or causing additional damage. The person who threw the extinguisher could also face legal consequences, such as charges of assault or property damage.

4. Have there been any notable incidents involving someone throwing a fire extinguisher?

Yes, there have been several incidents where someone has thrown a fire extinguisher. One of the most well-known incidents was during the 2010 student protests in the UK, where a protester threw a fire extinguisher off a rooftop, narrowly missing a group of police officers below. The protester was later sentenced to two years in prison for violent disorder.

5. How can we prevent people from throwing fire extinguishers?

Preventing people from throwing fire extinguishers requires a combination of education and enforcement. People need to understand the potential consequences of throwing heavy objects, such as injury or legal repercussions. Additionally, there need to be consequences for those who do throw extinguishers, such as fines or jail time. Finally, it’s important to create a culture where throwing objects in anger or frustration is not acceptable.

6. What should you do if you see someone throwing a fire extinguisher?

If you see someone throwing a fire extinguisher, the first thing you should do is get to a safe location and call for help. If possible, try to get a description of the person and any other details that could be helpful to authorities. Do not try to confront the person or intervene, as this could put you in danger.

7. What should you do if you accidentally drop a fire extinguisher?

If you accidentally drop a fire extinguisher, the first thing you should do is make sure that nobody is hurt and that there is no damage to property. If the extinguisher is damaged or discharged, it will need to be replaced. If it’s still in good condition, you can simply pick it up and return it to its proper location.

8. What should you do if you need to use a fire extinguisher?

If you need to use a fire extinguisher, the first thing you should do is make sure that you are using the correct type of extinguisher for the fire. Different types of fires require different types of extinguishers. Once you have the right extinguisher, aim it at the base of the fire and squeeze the handle. Move the extinguisher back and forth to cover the entire area of the fire. If the fire does not go out or if it reignites, evacuate the area immediately and call for help.

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