Fire Triangle Explained: Everything to Know!

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Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Introduction

Sticking to the basics can be very solid, consistently fruitful life advice. This rings true particularly when it comes to fire safety; overcomplication can make dangerous fire situations far worse. The Fire Triangle is a very straightforward concept, designed to help you fight fires safely and simply. You can apply your knowledge of the fire triangle to a particular situation and, in doing so, collapse it. Take a look at our free Fire Triangle poster and then read this article to find out more.

The Fire Triangle

The fire triangle is made up of 3 constituent parts. Let’s explore what they are exactly and, in turn, how to use our newfound knowledge to extinguish a fire.

Heat

All fires require heat energy to ignite. Moreover, heat energy is both reflective and creative of a fire; it ignites the fire, which in turn produces heat energy and ensures that the fire keeps burning.

Collapsing the heat component of a fire should be relatively simple, right? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that water often cools down a fire. However, whilst it can be an ally, you must know that water is not appropriate for all fire scenarios. As a thought exercise, think logically through what would happen if you sprayed water on an electrical fire, for example. The water would help conduct electricity, further spreading the energy causing the fire. Thus, it’s important to know that the type of fire and your available firefighting equipment dictates which area of the fire triangle you should target.

All fires need heat, fuel and oxygen.

Fuel

There are a whole host of common fuels for fires; you don’t need jet-grade kerosene to sustain a deadly blaze. Paper, wood, aerosol cans and cooking oils, for example, are all flammable materials. Understanding which of these materials (liquid, gas or solid) could potentially start a fire in your home or commercial premises then dictates how you might prepare for and deal with it.

As a result, collapsing a fire via the fuel component can be tricky. Whilst electrical fires are common in offices, for example, you might also see flammable liquid fires or gas fires. Your best bet is to use your legally-required fire risk assessment to gather as much information as possible regarding what could happen in your office and then prepare accordingly. If you can’t remove a risk, reduce it as much as possible.

Oxygen

The final component of the triangle is oxygen. Fortunately for a fire, oxygen is very easily accessible. What’s more, on paper, oxygen sounds very difficult to entirely remove. After all, wouldn’t you have to create a vacuum?

Well, not exactly. If the fire is small, a fire blanket can be one of your best weapons. Fire blankets can immediately starve a fire of oxygen, if applied correctly and completely. Similarly, particular extinguishers, such as CO2 Extinguishers, can create a barrier between the fuel and oxygen in the atmosphere.

Fire Triangle Explained in Real-World Scenarios

In the Office

An overloaded plug-extension cord in the workplace starts to heat up and eventually ignites, causing a small but quickly-spreading fire. In this case, a CO2 Extinguisher is the correct weapon.

Whilst there are many varieties of extinguisher, CO2 is the safest here. Its chemical make-up prevents further conduction of electricity, as well as barricading a fuel source from oxygen. If you use a CO2 extinguisher on an electrical extension cord, you will collapse the oxygen component of the fire triangle.

Once the fire is out, you should then turn the plug socket off, if it is not itself on fire and you can do so safely. If you cannot do so safely, you should turn the power off at the mains. This ensures that the fuel component, in this case the electricity, does not restart the fire.

In the Kitchen

Whether you’re cooking professionally or for the kids, fires are always a possibility. In many cases, oil in a pan ignites and, out of control, starts to ravage the kitchen. How would you act in this situation?

You should not use water in this situation. It does not mix with hot oil and grease well and will cause an eruption in the pan, consequently exacerbating the fire. If you can, turn off the heat and cover the pan with a metal lid. If this not an option or the fire continues, a Class B dry chemicals extinguisher, present in most commercial kitchens, is the best firefighting tool in this situation.

However, take care to stand well away from the fire – even as far as the other end of the kitchen – before you trigger the extinguisher. The pressure maintained in the extinguisher can push the fire onto new areas of the kitchen, if fired from close range. In this scenario, you can reasonably aim to collapse the heat, fuel and oxygen components of the triangle, with either of these methods of extinguishment.

At the Family Bonfire

Depending on how responsible your bonfire attendants are, flames which spiral out of control remain mostly fuelled by wood or paper. If you have been using lighter fluid or something similar, the fire can be far more dangerous. However, your typical bonfire can be very simply extinguished with water.

Of course, some bonfires aren’t held responsibly. To reignite dying embers, some people use petrol, lighter fluid and, probably worst of all, aerosol spray. These fuels can spread the fire and take it out of your control; liquid fuel fires are notoriously difficult to put out. Similarly to cooking oil fires, a CO2 Extinguisher is a good choice here. However, as most houses don’t have these to hand, sand, wet cloths and earth can be helpful.

Bonfires can be dangerous, if not held responsibly.

Conclusion

Remember, if a fire ever gets past the point at which you can reasonably collapse the fire triangle, you must evacuate and call the fire brigade. Hopefully, however, you may now have enough of an understanding of what starts and sustains a fire, which will in turn help you to fight one successfully.