Research - Extinguishers

After the fire bucket, the earliest portable fire fighting equipment was probably the hand squirt, as used by the Romans and at the Great Fire of London. The hand squirt was the first sort of simple fire appliance.

In 1816 a Captain Manby invented what is considered to be the first conventional fire extinguisher. It comprised a cylinder containing ‘antiphlogistic fluid’ (actually water mixed with pearl ash), which was expelled by compressed air on the operation of a stopcock. A string of similar appliances followed in the next hundred years, though not many were commercially successful.

By Victorian times, various portable extinguishing devices were marketed, notably the ‘fire grenade’, a chemical extinguishant contained in a glass vessel, which was thrown onto a fire. Other inventions followed such as the bucket pump, chemical extincteur (generally soda-acid) and sand or dry powder canisters.

The two-gallon (9-litre) soda-acid represented the most common type of British extinguisher for many years and was found in many guises – conical, cylindrical, pump-type, ‘turnover,’ hammer-operated and so on. It has been generally superseded by the water (gas cartridge) type, expelled by carbon dioxide.

Newer hazards such as the motor car, led to the introduction of foam and carbon dioxide extinguishers. Another once-common type of extinguisher was the vapourising liquid, the most familiar application of which being the one-quart (1.1lites) pump-type carbon tetrachloride (CTC) extinguisher, widely used in road transport. Unfortunately these types of appliance had harmful constituents such as chlorine and bromine compounds.

A later innovation was dry powder, widely used as an all-purpose medium because of all-round capability and safety near to electrical hazards. Another development was halon chemicals such as BCF, once widely used to protect computers and high-value equipment. However these are no longer used in the UK and Europe because of their toxic nature and risk of environmental harm.

More recent developments have included ‘fast-knock-down dry powders’ such as Purple-K and Monnex, anti-corrosion features such as polythene linings for water extinguishers and the widespread use of light water foam (AFFF).

Modern extinguishers are highly efficient and are designed to precise British and European specifications, including stringent performance criteria.

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