Fire Extinguishers for the Antique Engine Enthusiasts

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303 Fisher Rd., Fitchburg, MA 01420

The following article, written by a member of the Central Massachusetts Steam, Gas & Machinery Association, should be of interest to all in making safety preparations for this season's shows. A fire at the Central Mssachusetts show last June (see the December, 1985 issue of GEM, page 14, and the club's show report in this issue) prompted Mr. Whitney to write this article for the newsletter, and he has offered to share it with our readers.

Mr. Whitney is an ex-fire-lieutenant in a volunteer department and he spent over ten years as an instructor for the fire academy. His advice on the purchase and use of fire extinguishers should help to prevent disasters in the future.


With the availability of fire extinguishers in supermarkets, department stores, automotive supply houses and even legitimate fire equipment sales stores, it seems an appropriate time to discuss the types and basic uses of extinguishers for antique engine buffs at home and at shows.

There are two very practical types of extinguishers for our purposes. The first and priority extinguisher should be dry chemical (BC type) and the second should be carbon dioxide (CO2 type). These range in size from 2 to 20 pounds.

The first thought that would come to mind would be to purchase one 5-10 lb. extinguisher that in almost all cases would take care of the incipient fire, but some thought should be given to this. Having used my extinguishers a number of times in engine related situations and based on my past fire fighting experience, I feel the engine buff would be far better off with three or four 2-lb. dry chemical extinguishers. Be sure these have the small gauge indicating that they are still useable. In addition, a small 2 to 5 lb. CO2 would be the ideal mate.

Dry chemical extinguishers have a very good fire suppression capacity for their size and most fires would be extinguished with the use of only half of a readily available extinguisher. Unless you are certain no spark remains, finish expelling the dry powder. Once you set this extinguisher down for even a few moments it will lose its pressure and you will not be able to re-use it. The CO2 extinguisher should be reserved for a personal situation in which you have a small fire directly in the carburetor area of your engine and do not want to have to totally tear down the carburetor to clean out the dry chemical. In this small fire instance one or two shots of CO2 will extinguish the fire, cool the surrounding material and in a matter of moments evaporate off so that your engine is ready to start up again. The effectiveness of CO2 on a spill or a tipped over fuel tank or that type of situation is not as good. It's good if your steaks get on fire on the kitchen stove extinguish and you can start them right over again.

The reason for a number of small extinguishers is that when you have a fire you expel the total contents of the extinguisher at the base of the fire, not at the top of the flames. Even if you think half of the extinguisher has handled the fire, it is preferable to use up the rest of the powder to completely cover any burning material. Dry chemical has a smothering effect but very little cooling capacity and if the fire has gained headway in papers, rags or similar material it will take added powder to complete the extinguishment. If on totally expelling the contents of your first extinguisher you have any doubts as to whether you have gained total extinguishment, then a second, third or even fourth extinguisher should be used. Remember, once you use the extinguisher it must be re-charged. Many of the 2 to 4 lb. BC dry chemical extinguishers are sold so cheaply that it is difficult to get them re-charged (probably it is preferable if you have inexpensive extinguishers not to bother to have them re-charged) and at the end of a ten year period the cost of having these extinguishers hydro-statically tested is not justified.

Space out your purchases. Buy a couple 2 to 4 lb. BC dry chemicals and put them in the vehicle you take to the show to be removed and placed near your exhibit during the show. As you purchase a couple more the following year, place these in your home and when you leave for the show pack these along with your engines to give you added protection during your exhibit. This makes the extinguishers a very valuable year round tool and the cost is small for the protection they offer.