Fighting Fire With ... Jet Fuel?
December 23, 2013

Fighting Fire With … Jet Fuel?

Pop quiz. If you’re on fire, which of the following three methods is going to keep the flesh from melting off your bones: immediately dropping to the ground and rolling, jumping into a large body of water, or dousing yourself in jet fuel? If you picked one of the first two options, congratulations. We’re spared the sound of your agonizing screams and the smell of your charred flesh. If you picked the third option, I have to question your basic understanding of chemistry. Also, you’re going to burn to death. But hey, look on the bright side — you wouldn’t have been the first to throw jet fuel on a fire.

For these Washington State firefighters, what started as a completely normal training accident quickly escalated into a dangerous game of dodge-the-fireball. As per standard operating procedure, the firefighters were put up against a controlled blaze. In this instance, the proverbial foe was a burning jet liner, complete with jagged metal bits and clouds of thick, black smoke. As is no surprise, the firefighters busted out their big ol’ hoses and blasted away at the inferno … but there was a small problem. See, firefighters recycle a lot of the water for these kinds of training exercises, and in fact, they have a machine that’s designed to allow for exactly that. The water is run through a purifier that breaks down the oil and water before running it back through the hose lines, cleansing it of flammable substances such as trace jet fuel. Apparently, for one reason or another, the oil/water separator wasn’t functioning properly, and when your water is laced with jet-fuel runoff, this can be a problem … especially when you’re shooting it straight at a fire. The video in the above link gives a vivid view of the aftermath, thought it’s pretty much exactly what you’d expect. The already-impressive fire balloons into a very impressive fireball, though thankfully no major injuries were reported. Two firemen ended up sustaining minor burns, but all things considered, I’d say they still got off lucky. Bob Calkins of the Washington State Patrol is officially investigating the incident, along with several other authorities from the Washington State area. His official quote on the matter is … shall we say … less than the most enlightening: “When the firefighters put water on a fire that had been deliberately developed for training the fire got bigger instead of smaller.”

Thanks, Bob. Jet fuel makes fires bigger instead of smaller. Got it. We’ll sleep better at night knowing your observant eye is on the case.

All jibes aside, Calkins said that outside professionals had been hired to help investigate the machinery involved, though it is not yet known whether the fault lies with the oil/water separator or negligence on the part of an employee. For his or her potential sake, let’s hope it was just a technical malfunction. Otherwise, it looks like that career might … go up in smoke.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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