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Fire Extinguisher History

A fire extinguisher as you might know is a device that is used to control or extinguish small fires. You might have seen several in business premises in some cars or even have one at home. However, point to note is that they cannot be used to protect against fires that are out of control and are spreading fast as they pose a great threat to the user of the extinguisher and require expertise that only the fire brigade possess. A typical fire extinguisher consist of a cylindrical pressurized container that can be hand held and that contains chemicals that can be discharged to onto the fire and out it out. Generally fire extinguishers are of two types – cartridge operated and stored pressure. The stored pressure units release the expellant and the firefighting agent in the same chamber. Different propellants are used depending on the type of agent that is in use. For instance, nitrogen is used in dry powder extinguishers while air is used in foam and water extinguishers. Having that introduction, let us have a general overview of the history of the fire extinguisher.

The first fire extinguisher (going by the records of patenting), was created by an English chemist named Ambrose Godfrey in the year 1723. It was made of a large barrel containing a liquid to put out fire that had gun powder in the pewter chamber. It was connected by fuses that when lit exploded the gunpowder and dispersed the extinguishing liquid. And the fact that the Bradley’s Weekly Messenger referenced to its use in the year 1929 goes to show that it was rarely put into use.

The modern fire extinguisher however that we have was invented back in the year 1818 by a British by the name of Captain George William Manby. It contained 13.6 liters of potassium carbonate solution that was compressed in air. This soda-acid fire extinguisher in the year 1866 was for the first time patented by a French man called Francois Carlier. It produce carbon (IV) oxide as the propellant gas by mixing tartaric acid with sodium bicarbonate.

In 1881, another soda acid fire extinguisher was patented by an American, Almon M. Granger, which expelled pressurized water gotten from the reaction of sulphuric acid and sodium bicarbonate. In the cylinder that contained the liquid sulphuric acid, a vial was suspended.

After several years, 1910, the Pyrene Manufacturing Company of Delaware asked to patent their use of carbon tetrachloride in extinguishing fires. The CTC put off the flames by forming an oxygen free blanket over the fumes and suffocating them. A year later, they managed to patent only a small and portable extinguisher that made use of the chemical they created. The container was made from chrome and it had a hand pump that was meant to fire the liquid to the flames.

In the 1940s however, Germany came up with liquid chlorobromomethane that was to be used in airplanes. It proves to be more effective and par less poisonous than the CTC. It was however used until the year 1969. Used between 1920 and 1960s is Methyl bromide which is a low pressure gas that inhibits the fire’s chain reaction.

These days, we use fire extinguisher classes that are each appropriate for the type of fire. For example, class A is appropriate for wood or paper fires as it consists only of water. On the other hand, Class B uses fire retardant materials that are appropriate for gas and some other chemical fires. Most often, a fire extinguisher will be considered a multi-class extinguisher with ratings for A-B-C, or A-K.

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