A New Way To Fight Fires?

For as long as man has used fire, he has also had to deal with fire when it is out of control. Usually that means dowsing it with water, dirt, or other means of snuffing it out.

Over the past two hundred years or so fighting fire has meant using some kind of apparatus to move large amounts of water, allowing those fighting the fire to put out the flames. While quite effective, it has a number of downsides, including soaking everything anywhere near the fire. This usually damages objects and possessions within a structure almost as badly as if they had been burned. A limited source of water can also severely restrict the effectiveness of this method. While fire departments and fire engineers have been working to develop new ways of putting out fires more effectively, progress has been slow...until now.

Instead of using water, researchers at Harvard University have found a way of extinguishing flames using electricity.

No, that isn't a misprint. They're talking about using electrical fields to put out fires.

Firefighters currently use water, foam, powder and other substances to extinguish flames. The new technology could allow them to put out fires remotely — without delivering material to the flame — and suppress fires from a distance. The technology could also save water and avoid the use of fire-fighting materials that could potentially harm the environment, the scientists suggest.

In the new study, they connected a powerful electrical amplifier to a wand-like probe and used the device to shoot beams of electricity at an open flame more than a foot high. Almost instantly, the flame was snuffed out. Much to their fascination, it worked time and again.

Ironically, the effect of electric fields on fire was observed over 200 years ago, but little research has been done on the phenomenon until recently.

Using such an apparatus would certainly solve a number of problems, including eliminating the need for large amounts of water to fight fires or risking the lives of firefighters to enter burning structures in order to attack the fire more aggressively.

As Glenn Reynolds would say, “Faster please.”