Fire’s been around so long, it was treated by the ancient Greeks as an actual element alongside air, water, and soil.
The now-vintage Bruce Willis movie The Fifth Element also treated fire similar to the Greeks of old; adding Milla Jojovich as the remarkable “perfect being” 5th element who eventually helps to save the world.
It’s no wonder fire or flames are easily interpreted as elemental building blocks of our reality—because almost anything we encounter has within it the ability to BECOME fire; to burn, melt or to become part of the chain reaction necessary for fire to happen.
This is why many ancient cultures believed fire was “stored” inside trees, grass and sky (lightning). The truth isn’t so far from the fiction.
The flames you see aren’t a substance; fire is not an object, per se… but the visible end result of the heat, light and energy released rapidly by a chemical reaction called oxidation (combining oxygen with another substance); a process that requires three things to be present for fire to exist in the first place.
The Three Things That Must Be Present For Fire To Break Out
- Fuel. Something that burns; is flammable.
- Heat. Enough heat must be present to make available fuel burn
- Air. Oxygen in the air combines rapidly with fuel and heat to create and sustain fire.
Eliminate any one of these—expend the fuel, reduce the heat or deny the air—and you can extinguish fire. The challenge in fire is that it is a self-sustaining chain reaction that happens very fast.
As the molecular structure of the fuel breaks down and releases enough energy to begin to burn, the sudden release of energy elevates the temperature quite rapidly, and essentially starts to feed itself. Fire “eats” both the available oxygen in the air and the flammable fuel source, including additional fuel sources near the reaction that allow a flames to “spread.”
The rapid oxidation chain reaction is also a part of the fire-making process. Heat plus fuel makes gas that burns (that’s the visible flame you see). Smoke and the residue left by smoke called soot are the dangerous by-products of this chemical reaction.
From a VERY basic perspective, the goal of the firefighter is to neutralize one or more components necessary to keep fire burning. We’ll be exploring many of the ways firefighters battle and fight fires in future blogs.
What Do Firefighters Think Of Fire?
So what do the members of Alpha Volunteer Fire Company think personally about the nature of fire? Here are the answers to a few heated questions–insights from Alpha volunteer firefighters about the awesome and dangerous elemental power of fire and flame.
What does a fire look like to a firefighter?
To me, fire looks like a sneaky devil daring me to do something about it. – Steve Bair
What is so remarkable about fire?
The raw power and pure energy of a fire, when uncontrolled, is incredible. While the science of fire behavior is well known, each fire is unique. – Svend Pedersen
What is the one thing most people don’t understand about fire?
I have observed many non-firefighters are UN-aware of fire behavior, in particular the rate of spread and thus the phenomenon of back-draft* and flash-over.** – Richard Harris
What does it feel like to fight fire?
An opportunity to test my mettle; and to test my faith in God. It feels insane, and ultimately rewarding, for I helped others. — Richard Fitzgerald
Let’s Extinguish This Blog Entry For Now.
Perhaps the simplest answer to why so many different individuals willingly choose fight the ever-changing, elemental challenge of fire is summed up by Alpha member Tony Berea:
Firefighting helps the communities we serve, and the fire service helps me grow as an individual with all the training and all the different people I work with. I love the fire service.
Be sure to check out this remarkable article from our friends at the National Fire Protection Association for deeper information about the nature of fire and fighting a fire in general.
* Backdraft: The explosion of heated gases that occurs when oxygen is introduced into a space within a burning building where the oxygen has been depleted by the fire. Also see: 1991 Film by Ron Howard.
** Flashover: The stage of fire when all surfaces and objects are heated to their ignition temperature (flash point) and flame breaks out almost at once over the entire surface.