We Did Start the Fire-Environmental Health & Safety - Carnegie Mellon University

Monday, November 28, 2011

We Did Start the Fire

Richard Caruso

A live fire burn on Wednesday, August 31st kicked off EH&S’s annual Safety Awareness Week. The goals of this demonstration were to impress upon the audience the immense power that a fire can possess, the incredible speed in which a fire can travel and the effective ability of a sprinkler system to contain, control and extinguish the fire.

We accomplished this by erecting two mock dorm rooms side by side on the College of Fine Arts lawn. Both of the dorm rooms contained ordinary common commodities that you would find in your own home.  One of  the rooms was equipped with a smoke detector only. The other dorm room was similar in every aspect with the addition of a sprinkler system. Fires in both rooms were started by lighting a fire  in a trash in each room.

The trash can was lit in the room sans the sprinkler system and the following info was recorded;                          

At 30 seconds, temperatures reached 90o F.                   
At 37 seconds the smoke detector activated.
At 60 seconds the temperature jumped to 455o F.
At 90 seconds the temperature rocketed to 797o F.
At 120 seconds the temperature was at or above 1000 o F.
 (I say at or above because our infrared thermal meter can only record to 999 degrees F).

The trash can was lit in the room with the sprinkler system and the following info was recorded:

At 40 seconds the smoke detector activated.
At 30 seconds the temperature reached 84o F.

At 50 seconds the temperature was estimated to be 175 o F.
At 51 seconds the sprinkler system activated and controlled the fire.

Fire is darker, smokier, hotter and faster than you can imagine. Fire can cause temperatures to increase several hundred degrees in seconds. One breath of fires super heated toxic gases can render a person unconscious .Smoke inhalation, not burns, is the leading cause of fire fatalities. 

A fire can and might happen to you; therefore you must be prepared and have the knowledge to escape safely. You should never ignore the sound of an activated smoke detector or fire alarm.

Remember – When in doubt you must get out.