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Smothering fire: A new approach to car fire extinguishment

A new car fire blanket may change how firefighters approach these common fires

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A fire blanket can be deployed over the car, smothering the fire while also containing smoke and toxic fumes. This is all accomplished with just two firefighters – and there is zero water used.

Every emergency call can bring a variety of issues that firefighters may not have seen before, so it is incumbent upon crews to be not only adaptable but also as prepared as possible to handle anything that is thrown at them. Fortunately, firefighters can be very creative in solving problems, often thinking outside the box for solutions to fire hazards.

I once asked a group of fire chiefs what they wanted in a company officer, and one responded, “a critical-thinking problem-solver.” Sounds like a simple request –something any firefighter can strive to be for their crew. Sometimes, being that “critical-thinking problem-solver” requires using equipment in different ways or learning to use new products for old problems.

Reviewing our extinguishment options

In fire school, we learned about the fire tetrahedron and how it is made of four factors necessary for combustion:

  1. Fuel
  2. Oxygen
  3. Heat
  4. Chemical chain reaction

Removing any one of these factors causes the fire to stop. The most common method of extinguishment is the cooling of the fire (removal of heat), accomplished by applying water.

Another common method to extinguish a fire is removing the oxygen through smothering the fire. When teaching a home fire prevention class to a group of citizens, we often demonstrate this principle to citizens by placing a lid on top of a burning pot or pan to extinguish a small grease fire – a simple way to remove the much-needed oxygen and quash the flames.

Removing the oxygen at car fires

What if we applied that same principle on a little larger scale, such as a car fire?

Norway-based Bridgehill has developed a fire blanket now being used by some U.S. fire departments. The Car Fire Blanket has been shown to perform in much the same manner as the lid covering the pot, and just as quickly. A fire blanket can be deployed over the car, smothering the fire while also containing smoke and toxic fumes. This is all accomplished with just two firefighters – and there is zero water used.

The manufacturer states that the eco-friendly blankets are made of extremely fire-resistant material constructed of two layers of glass fabric with a fire-resistant inner liner. The blanket can isolate the fires up to 1,000 degrees F within seconds and should be left on the car for a minimum of 20 minutes to ensure the vehicle is extinguished.

Following proper cleaning after each car fire, the blanket can be reused up to 50 times.

Although water has long been the go-to source of fire extinguishment, electric vehicles are changing the firefighting game, forcing firefighters to find alternative means of battling these new hazards, particularly where lithium batteries are involved. A fire blanket is one option for extinguishing electric car fires.

Another possible use of a fire blanket is for car fires in parking decks and garages – areas that present an extremely difficult situation when there is a car fire. The most obvious is the limited access of even the smallest fire apparatus. Along those same lines, many decks do not have fire sprinkler systems or even standpipe connections to attach a hoseline. Such challenges mean firefighters must be problem-solvers – and fire blanket could be a good option for a quick attack.

A new problem-solver

The question to be asked is if the blanket could be used on other types of fires. What about dumpsters or trash fires? A fire blanket is certainly one easily deployable option that helps firefighters be problem-solvers in a new way.

Chief Keith Padgett serves as the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Academic Program Director with Columbia Southern University within the College of Safety and Emergency Services. A 42-year member of the fire service, Padgett previously served as fire chief of the Beulah Fire District in Valley, Alabama, and as the chief/fire marshal for the Fulton County Fire-Rescue Department in Atlanta. He is presently the Co-Chair of the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education (FESHE) EMS curriculum workgroup. He also served as a Specialty Educational Board member for the IAFC Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) Section as the chair of the Professional Development/Higher Education sub-committee as well as a director-at-large board member on the IAFC’s Safety, Health and Survival Section. Padgett completed the Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program through the National Fire Academy and has a Chief Fire Officer Destination through the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE). He holds a master’s degree in leadership with an emphasis in disaster preparedness and executive fire leadership and a bachelor’s degree in public safety administration. Connect with Padgett on LinkedIn or via email.