My Part in Fires and Explosions

20 Dec 2013

Parents and children from Cheshire were treated to a lively demonstration of the dangers of volatile chemicals through a series of lab experiments and YouTube clips, courtesy of the Liverpool and North West Group on 14 Dec 2013.

Apart from one chemical, all other materials came from the home, and included diesel, petrol, meths, wood, matches, gas, vinegar, baking powder and flour.

Mike Halliday, the group chair, drew on his experience as a consultant who is called to industrial plants to investigate when things have gone wrong (usually fires and explosions) and to put plans in place to stop this recurring.

Marie Connor, group secretary, used her own experience at Innospec working in industrial health and safety at the oil refining and fuel additive plant at Ellesmere Port.

One of the enduring features of the best Disney films is that they appeal to both children and adults. Mike and Marie managed to achieve that balance and kept an audience of over 50 entranced for two hours through causing fires, putting them out, causing explosions and making lots of smoke.

They received lots of help from children doing the experiments, lots of questions from both children and adults, and saw lots of faces amazed by what small quantities of simple chemicals can do.

The morning was structured around the fire triangle: fuel, oxygen and heat. By mixing baking powder and vinegar, the carbon dioxide produced was used to put out a fire. The invisible carbon dioxide flowed out of a beaker onto the fire. Why was that?

Children found it impossible to ignite diesel until they sprayed it over a flame and then it formed a fire-ball. Why was that?

Dust from everyday baking products was used to produce a shower of sparks like a firework. Petrol fumes were used to propel a drinks bottle across the room at an amazing speed (attached to a washing line stretched across the room), and were shown to flow down a sloping tube to a waiting flame at the bottom!

Static was shown to ignite petrol as someone filled a car at a filling station (YouTube).

At the end children were amazed and adults were more clued up about the dangers of chip pans, petrol, aerosols, dusts and the many other household products that can cause fires given the right (or wrong!) circumstances.

Many thanks go to Mike and Marie for arranging this exciting and memorable morning. It will remain in the minds of all those who attended for a long time.

Dr Trevor Rhodes
Liverpool and North West Group

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