Fire Extinguishers for the Antique Engine Enthusiasts

By Staff

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.

Editor

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.

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