Airplane Fires — A Growing Danger
Inflammable Fuels and Combustible Construction plus Electrical Equipment Make the Plane a Serious Potential Fire Hazard
IT has been said that as quickly as industry develops a new fire hazard, science provides extinguishing equipment to protect it. While this is substantially correct, the advent and development of the airplane have created a fire problem which so far has not been entirely counteracted by the development of fully effective fire fighting equipment.
Although the average plane fire may be considered an incipient one, the number of planes which have been completely destroyed by fire and the number of lives which have been lost thereby are sufficient evidence that a problem has developed of sufficient seriousness to require a lot of work on the part of fire protection engineers to provide suitable fire extinguishing equipment for this type of blaze.
Not only is the airplane in itself a fire hazard but the fact that a plane may drop at any point, landing on a building or an industrial plant of normally high combustible nature presents an incidental problem which is serious in the extreme.
Picture, for example, a plane crashing on the top of a large building, and through the explosion of gasoline fumes generated, igniting combustible material within the pent house on such a building. The possibilities would be tremendous.
The greater danger lies in the presence of highly volatile, inflammable fumes. This danger will always be present, for satisfactory engine fuels must always be inflammable.
The growing use of metal in place of combustible fabrics in airplane construction reduces somewhat the hazard of fire, but the average plane will never be looked upon as anything but a severe hazard both to property on which it may land and to the passengers within the plane.
The danger of plane fires is not confined to the city, but is present throughout the territory over which planes may travel. Numerous forest and grass fires have been caused by planes making forced landing. Probably the greatest handicap in handling the airplane fire is the usually inaccessible point at which it lands. Even should it crack up over a landing field, it is quite a run for the fire department to reach the field and get to the point at which the plane has fallen. The few minutes required for the department to arrive at the scene is sufficient for the fire to completely envelop, and frequently destroy, the plane.
Forced landings are ofttimes made on the outskirts of the city with the same problem of fire apparatus response.
Water, if it is present in sufficient quantities and brought into play instantly may check the spread of the fire and enable rescue work to be performed. Water streams directed on the gas tank will keep it cool and prevent explosion. I may also aid in driving the burning gasoline away from the structure. It will likewise check the spread of the fire in the plane construction itself.
But water streams are rarely available in time to prove effective.
This leaves the task of extinguishing the blaze upon first aid appliances such as soda and acid extinguishers, foam extinguishing apparatus, carbon dioxide extinguishers, carbon tetrachloride, etc.
Even with any of these appliances it is vital that the operations of extinguishing be started instantly. Records of airplane fires show that few of such fires are extinguished before the plane has been completely destroyed.
Of all the appliances so far employed possibly the carbon dioxide gas extinguishers are the most effective, if the equipment is available in sufficient size to handle the blaze.
Fire in flowing gasoline, particularly where vessel from which it is flowing is above the ground, is extremely hard to extinguish. Either carbon dioxide gas or the Du-gas type of extinguisher, employing some inert gas with powder in combination, is about the only thing that will handle it effectively.
For extinguishing the gasoline once it has spread over the ground, foam is very effective. This agent is also effective in covering exposed surfaces with a layer of foam insulation.
The soda and acid extinguisher is of little use, due to its limited capacity, while carbon tetrachloride is also ineffective, the gas being blown away as fast as it is generated.
Sand is of some use in preventing the spread of the fire, if sufficient shovels and men are at hand instantly upon the landing of the plane.
Many landing fields have their own fire apparatus consisting of a light motor driven machine, sometimes equipped with pump and booster tank, and at other times with chemicals only. Such machines, if they carry foam and carbon dioxide, or Du-gas extinguishers, probably serve as the most effective means for handling airplane blazes. But here again success depends upon the speed with which the appartus arrives at the scene of the accident.
(Continued on page 295)
Airplane Fires—a Growing Danger
Continued from page 278)
The illustrations herewith show some typical airplane fires, and illustrate very clearly the difficulties encountered in extinguishing such blazes.