Created By: RevolutionStone on April 3, 2014 Last Edited By: RevolutionStone on September 2, 2014

Useful Notes: Fire And Explosive Safety

A UsefulNotes primer on fire safety and explosives/pyrotechnics safety.

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We have a Useful Notes on gun safety, so I think this is one that we need to work on as well, because if there's anything Hollywood gets wrong as much as guns/firearms, it's fire and explosions, and people doing stupid stuff with fire or explosion risks (or even sources of fire or explosives like petrochemicals/fuels or fireworks/stage pyro) or people responding in dangerous and even fatal ways to fire or explosion emergencies is possibly even more common than people being dangerously stupid with guns.

Article would be split into different sections and would cover accidental fire and explosion hazards, responsible and safety-conscious use of fire and civilian explosives (petroleum chemicals; and fireworks and similar pyrotechnics), and proper response to fire or explosive emergencies with a focus on providing accurate information on detection and escape - with some info on fighting minor fires (such as a stovetop fire or an out of control barbecue) or handling small explosive emergencies (such as shutting off gas for a localized gas leak until the fire department/gas company can arrive, or putting out a smoking dud firecracker/pyro sparkler)

Description: This page covers a discussion of the safe handling of fire and explosion hazards, fire and explosion prevention, and basic tips in handling small fire or explosive emergencies.

(Finally done with edits! :) )
Community Feedback Replies: 8
  • April 3, 2014
    For a bump
  • April 3, 2014
    I don't know if a Useful Notes needs examples, but I'll add a few for this bump just in case.

    • In Hollywood Fire, people can walk or stand in fully or partially engulfed locations without a problem. Doing this in real life will literally ensure your immediate death - real fires produce heavy smoke, which rises and contains poisonous gases. Breathing these gases alone will kill you or render you unconscious, and even if it doesn't, heat from fire also rises - meaning that a standing, walking person with no protective gear may well be exposed to temperatures in excess of 1400F in a fully or even partially engulfed room. This is why if you are escaping from a major fire, you must get as low to the ground as you can, crawling until you are in an area free of flames and heavy smoke - temperatures at ground level or just above are lower and smoke is less. (example of properly escaping from fire)

    • Gasoline is the most common explosive chemical most people will come into everyday or near-everyday contact with, and this familiarity often breeds apathy toward what a hazardous explosive it is. Its fumes are the explosive - if it is disturbed in any way (such as being poured or a container of it being suddenly opened in a wreck, for example) such fumes are produced, and even the slightest spark (such as a static discharge or the flick of a lighter) will cause an explosion and flash fire. If you can smell gasoline at all, especially a heavy smell of it, there is a risk of explosion with it if exposed to any source of fire or flame.
      • If you are fueling a vehicle, generator, or something else powered by gasoline, make sure there are no sources of fire in the immediate vicinity. This means not getting into your car again while it's fueling - which can produce static discharge - as well as complying with the warnings to turn off any motors and not smoke that are posted at almost any gas station. If you are fueling a generator or lawnmower, use the same precautions recommended at gas stations (no smoking, turn off motor, no open flames, no static discharges).
      • Storing gasoline (whether in your vehicle or home) is almost always a bad idea. It is better to keep canisters for its storage empty, and to only fill them when needed, with only as much as you need. If you absolutely must store gasoline fuels rather than buy as needed, they should be stored well away from living areas in something such as a locked backyard shed or workshop.
      • Gasoline is a fuel for combustion engines. It is NOT a substitute for charcoal lighter fluid for a barbecue, a cleaning fluid, a fireplace starter, or for use in fire displays or lamps. It is too unstable and flammable to be used in any application where other fuels or petrochemicals are recommended.
      • Gasoline-burning generators or the like produce carbon monoxide, and should never be used in any indoor space. (example for explosive safety)
      • All that said, the Hollywood trope of dumping gasoline on something to set it afire is only half true. Again, it's the fumes that cause the explosion and flash fire - if those fumes have had time to dissipate and the gasoline is in a stable state not producing fumes, gasoline is no more explosive than oil. This enables stunts like people being able to throw cigarette butts into a bucket of gasoline (a Dont Try This At Home stunt if there ever was one, but occasionally a way for bikers and mechanics to show bravado) and it's why arson with gasoline is a crapshoot that often ends up killing the arsonist but not even burning the intended target. The only problem is any movement of the gasoline such as the wind blowing over it or the container being moved or some of it burning often restores all of it to its explosive state.

  • April 4, 2014
    • Don't commit arson. This seems like an obvious statement, but setting fires or setting off explosions can be a felony criminal offense of arson or of terrorism-related offenses, with all that entails, even if it is your own property and/or even if your intent was "just to have fun," especially if the fire or explosion causes damage other than to its intended place.
      • Setting off fireworks/pyro or starting fires in public areas without permission is almost always asking for being charged with this crime - even if you're only burning tires or a trashcan to celebrate your favorite sports team winning or setting off a firework in an urban area in a holiday celebration. To avoid criminal penalties only set public fires in designated fire pits (e.g. a bonfire pit at the beach is okay as long as it's clearly marked as such) and only use fireworks/other pyrotechnics or fire displays (yes, even stuff like a firebreathing or fire-eating show where you are likely the only person in danger) in public areas if you are properly licensed and have the proper permits to do so from burn permits to film permits.
      • If you are legitimately using fire beyond a firepit or barbecue, or explosives or pyrotechnics at all on your own property (e.g. razing a building, burning leaves, practicing firebreathing or other pyrotechnic stunts) again make sure you have the proper permits if any are required, that you have warned neighbors AND that you have proper safety precautions in place to prevent fire spread or a stray firework or bottle rocket.
      • Don't light fires or use pyrotechnic displays (or even fire firearms) in hazardous fire conditions, or where the fire could easily spread to a wooded or grassy area. Too many devastating wildfires have resulted from this, and if you are found to be at fault for a wildfire, you often will be charged with felony arson. Check the weather forecast for burn bans or high winds, and remember the following mnemonic for safe areas for fire or explosives - CADSS; cement, asphalt, dirt, sand, snow. If grassy or forested areas are even possibly within landing range of embers from a bonfire or a landing firework or bottle rocket, it's likely not a good idea to engage in such activities in the area, and having even your barbecue on your wood deck instead of your cement/asphalt driveway is asking for trouble.
      • If you have an interest in fire/pyrotechnics/explosives, there are safe places to explore this - specifically, rocketry or pyro ranges, areas set up for fire pits or burns, or similar.
      • If you have an unhealthy interest in fire or explosives (e.g. you desire to harm others with them, you have a compulsion to set fires for their being noticed/in areas where they are dangerous, you only or primarily gain sexual release from fire) you likely suffer from the mental disorder pyromania (one percent of all people, and 50 percent of convicted arsonists have this disorder), and there is help and therapy available - seek it before you end up harming people or being arrested or both.
  • April 6, 2014
    • If you smoke anything from tobacco to other substances, you need to be absolutely careful in regard to smoking materials and debris. Many house fires, wildfires, and car fires result from the improper use of smoking paraphernalia or the improper disposal of burning or smoldering smoking related trash.
      • DO NOT SMOKE IN BED. Many (most) beds and bedding are not fireproof and do consist of lots of fabric that provides both places for ashes to smolder, and for lit or hot cigarettes or cigars or pipes or such to land on if dropped. If you need to smoke something, get out of and away from bed.
      • Use a proper ashtray, or if one doesn't exist, create one with a cup/half full bottle of water for cigarettes and spent joints and the like or a solid, non-ignitable surface (e.g. stone, sand, dirt) on which to rest pipes. If you toss out a cigarette or cigar butt, make sure that it will land on the aforementioned cement, asphalt, dirt, sand, snow, or stone. Same goes for a match you've used to light something - it should never be dropped on an ignitable surface.
      • Keep lighters, matches, cigarettes/cigars themselves, and other smoking materials away from kids and pets - both to prevent their using them/becoming poisoned by them and to prevent fires from being started.
      • Do not light a match or lighter (or carry a cigarette lit elsewhere) into any situation where explosives or highly explosive petrochemicals such as natural gas, methane, or gasoline may be present.
      • Do not throw cigarette butts or cigar butts out of car windows, or smoke around forested or grassy areas in times of high winds.
      • Smoking while driving is in general a bad idea if you are the driver - many car fires and accidents when a driver is scrambling to prevent car fires have resulted from cigarettes accidentally dropped inside a vehicle.
      • If you use a device like a vaporizer or e-cigarette that requires charging, make sure you know how to properly charge it, ONLY use the manufacturer's included charger, and heed the time limit for charging.
  • April 24, 2014
    • In Hollywood depictions, fires somehow always announce their presence or are immediately obvious to all around. While some Real Life fires do this due to the very nature of how they start (e.g. the food you are cooking starts to burn as you are watching it, the leaf pile burn gets out of control) many fires (especially those related to electrical wiring or smoldering ashes or the like) start while people are asleep or out of the room, or they begin so small that they aren't noticed by sight or sound. This is why a working smoke detector in all rooms is absolutely lifesaving and absolutely necessary. Install battery-powered smoke detectors, and check the battery every six months. (Smoke detectors on main electric are a bad idea, as they will not work in a power outage or, in some cases, if the wiring itself is on fire as could happen in a major electrical fire.)
      • One reason many people don't install smoke detectors is their propensity for alarming over things such as cooking food, a lot of smokers in one space, incense or candles, and the like. This can be solved with two things - the cheapest solution while you are in the space is simply to put a shower cap on over the detector, or remove the detector, while you are awake and in the space watching everything - and take off the shower cap or screw the detector back on to its mounts before bedtime/before leaving the room. More expensive modern smoke detectors such as the Nest type actually have a timed "turn off" setting - for cooking or for when there's a couple of smokers in a room for example.
    • Carbon monoxide detectors, while they aren't fire/smoke detectors, are absolutely necessary if you have gas-burning or wood-burning (or anything-burning, for that matter) appliances or central heating. Carbon monoxide is a lethal gas produced as a byproduct of burning - and it can kill or permanently injure at surprisingly low concentrations (and even if it doesn't, can make you very sick - many people who have had what seems like "chronic winter sickness/flu that never goes away" have actually discovered they were suffering from low-level carbon monoxide poisoning). They should be installed in/around all sleeping areas, with one near the kitchen or other location of the gas-burning appliances. If the alarm goes off, call your local emergency number and evacuate the dwelling to fresh air until professionals have verified it safe for return.
      • Also, to protect yourself from carbon monoxide, never run vehicles in closed garages attached to a dwelling, never use barbecues, generators, or other sources of combustion inside a closed or improperly ventilated space - and indoors at all is improperly ventilated for barbecues and generators, both of which should strictly be kept outdoors.
    • Gas detectors are also a good idea to prevent explosions in some circumstances (you are on an independent LPG or propane supply, you use bottled/tanked LPG or propane or the like and store it, the LPG/natural gas/propane supply in your area doesn't have odorant or you have inability to smell, you have a basement or other place gas can collect and live near a pipeline or other source of potential gas leaks, there's a hazard of methane or gasoline fumes accumulating in any specific location). For these, you need to place them properly depending on the type of gas you need to detect - for propane and hexane, for example, you would place a gas detector lower to the ground because both are heavier than air, while for LPG, natural gas, or methane detection you would place it higher since those rise. If a gas detector goes off, leave the area immediately and call emergency services from a phone in a gas-free location to report the leak.
  • April 26, 2014
    Another important safety notice: never use any gasoline-fueled stove or lantern (except stoves with a separate bottle) indoors. These devices are for outdoor use only. If they come with a safety pressure release valve, they will fire a jet of flame from that valve if they overheat. If they do not, they will leak or explode if overheated.

    Gasoline stoves with a separate fuel bottle and kerosene stoves are okay for indoor use.
  • May 23, 2014
    Bumping. Would like to launch so we can get Wiki Magic to fill in more examples and the like
  • September 2, 2014
    The comments contain good information, except for hard-wired smoke detectors being a bad idea, since they have backup batteries for power outages and if their wiring is damaged.