Firefighting and extinguishing

For a fire to occur, there must be available oxygen, a supply of fuel, and enough heat to kindle the fuel. Therefore, the three basic ways of extinguishing fire are to smother it, to cut off the fuel supply, or to cool it below the flammability temperature. Fires are classified into four types: those in solids, e.g., wood, paper, and cloth; those in flammable liquids, e.g., gasoline, alcohol, oils, lacquers, and paints; those in electrical apparatus; and those in flammable metals such as magnesium. These are called, respectively, class A, B, C, and D fires.Certain dry materials that melt and coat the burning material, thus excluding air, are useful against all classes of fire. In certain cases inert gases such as argon or nitrogen are used to fight fires in materials that would react dangerously with water or with other extinguishing agents; sodium and water, for example, is a dangerous combination.Water, although supplanted somewhat by other materials, is still the most common substance used for quenching class A fires, which are the most common types of fire; water both cools and helps smother the fuel. Buckets of water are the simplest equipment for fighting small fires in solids. More effective are fire extinguishers capable of directing a stream of water. Wetting agents called detergents make water more penetrating, especially for such objects as cotton bales and mattresses.

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