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ACCELERANT - A material, usually a flammable to combustible liquid, which is used to either initiate or hasten the spread of fire.

AFTERGLOW - The continued incandescent burning of a fire after the flame has been extinguished.

ALGOR MORTIS - A Latin expression meaning "Cooling of the body".

ALLIGATOR BLISTERS - Blisters on wood caused by a fire whose look and texture resembles an alligator’s skin.

ALTERNATING CURRENT - A polarity of current which is reversed periodically, creating a regular system of sine waves. Commonly known as AC current.

AMBIENT TEMPERATURE - The temperature of the surroundings.

AMPERE - A unit describing the rate of flow of an electric current.

ANNEALING - A term used to describe the effect heat has on the wire springs of a chair, sofa, or vehicle seat. It causes the springs to flatten out and lose their tension. Does not indicate a liquid accelerant was present. May be the result of a rapid or smouldering fire.

ARCING - When pure electricity jumps across a gap in a circuit. The intense heat at the arc may ignite any nearby combustible material or may fuse the metal conductors.

AREA OF ORIGIN - The localized area where a fire originated.

AUTOIGNITION - The spontaneous ignition of gases or vapours given off by a heated material. Synonymous with ignition temperature except that no external ignition source is needed, since the material has heated itself to its ignition temperature.

AUTOIGNITION TEMPERATURE -The lowest temperature at which a combustible liquid or vapour can ignite without the application of a flame or other means of ignition.

BACKDRAFT - An explosion or rapid burning of heated gases resulting from the introduction of oxygen when air is admitted to a building heavily charged by heat and smoke from a fire, which has depleted the oxygen content of a building.

BEADING - A process whereby a globule forms on an electric wire during a fire or from a short circuit. Laboratory analysis may be able to determine if beading was the result of a fire or occurred prior to fire commencement.

BI-METALLIC STRIP - A strip consisting of two metals with different coefficients of thermal expansion. When the strip is subjected to heat, the lengths of the two faces alter by different amounts, causing the strip to bend.

BLISTERING - Swelling caused by the expansion of gas inside a material while it is still soft or liquid due to heat. Can occur on painted surfaces of materials when heated.

BLEVE - Boiling Liquid Expanding Vapour Explosion.

BOILING POINT - The temperature where the vapour pressure of a liquid is equal to that of the surrounding atmosphere. The change of state from liquid to vapour is accompanied by an absorption of energy "the latent heat of vaporization."

BTU - British Thermal Unit. The quantity of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 lb. of water 1 degree Fahrenheit.

BURN PATTERN - The path of travel from a fire’s point of origin.

BURNING - Normal combustion in which the oxidant is molecular oxygen.

BURNING POINT - The temperature point at which material produces enough vapours so that when it is ignited, it will continue to bum.

BURNING RATE - The rate at which combustion proceeds across a fuel. A specialized use of this term describes the rate at which the surface of a pool of burning liquid recedes. For gasoline, this rate is reported to be approximately 1/4 inch per minute.

CARBONACEOUS - A material made of or containing carbon. This encompasses practically every combustible or flammable material.

CARBONIZATION - Decomposition by heat of organic substance in a limited supply of air, accompanied by a formation of carbon.

CARBON MONOXIDE - A gaseous molecule having the formula CO, which is the product of incomplete combustion of organic materials. Carbon monoxide has an affinity for haemoglobin approximately 200 times stronger than oxygen’s and is highly poisonous. CO is a flammable gas which bums with a blue flame, and has explosive limits of 12% to 75%. Carbon monoxide has approximately the same vapour density as air, 0.97 (air= 1.00)

CHAR - Carbonaceous material formed by the incomplete combustion of organic materials, commonly wood or cellulose based materials.

CHARCOAL - Residue from the destructive distillation of wood which results when air is excluded. It contains carbon and inorganic matter.

CHARRING - The formation of a light, carbonaceous residue on wood or other organic matter, resulting from incomplete combustion.

CHIMNEY EFFECT - The natural tendency of heat to flow upwards.

CIRCUIT BREAKER - Safety device used to open a faulty or overloaded electrical circuit.

COMBUSTIBLE LIQUID - Any liquid having a flash point at or above 38 degrees Celsius and below 93 degrees Celsius.

COMBUSTION - An exothermic chain reaction between oxidizing and reducing agents, or between oxygen and fuel. Combustion may occur with any organic compound, or with certain combustible elements such as hydrogen, sulphur, and finely divided metals.

CONDUCTION - A physical process where heat is transferred from one point to another through an object.

CONDUCTIVITY - The ability of a material to transfer energy from one place to another. Thermal conductivity describes a substance’s ability to transmit heat. Electrical conductivity describes a substance’s ability to transmit electrical current. Conductivity is the opposite of resistivity.

CONTINUITY - Maintaining continuous surveillance at a fire scene from the time of the fire until such a time when the investigation is considered complete. Also used in electrical descriptions such as the electrical circuit was complete.

CONVECTION - Transfer of heat by the movement of molecules in a gas or liquid, with the less dense fluid rising. The majority of heat transfer in a fire is by convection.

CREOSOTE - Tawny brown or hard black internal deposits in a chimney produced by burning wood.

CRYSTALLIZED - Tempered glass that has broken into small squarish shaped segments with rounded edges.

CURRENT - Measurement of electricity.

DIRECT CURRENT -A continuous flow of current of the same polarity. Commonly referred to as DC current.

DIRECTION OF TRAVEL - Denotes the direction the fire is travelling in.

DOWNDRAFT - When a column of air in the chimney reverses its direction.

DROP FIRE - A fire started by flaming or glowing material failing from the wall or ceiling to the floor area below.

DRYING OIL -An organic liquid which, when applied as a thin film, readily absorbs oxygen from the air and polymerizes to form a tough elastic film. Linseed, tung, soybean and castor oils are drying oils. Under certain conditions, usually involving large surface areas and insulation, such as a pile of rags soaked with drying oils, spontaneous heating may occur.


ENDOTHERMIC REACTION - Chemical reactions where during the formation of chemical compounds, heat is absorbed. Nearly all endothermic compounds are unstable and decompose easily. Explosives are usually endothermic.

EXCLUSION OF ACCIDENTAL CAUSES - The first step to recognizing arson.

EXOTHERMIC REACTION - A chemical reaction in which heat is given off during the formation of chemical compounds. An example is the heat given off during the formation of carbon dioxide which is produced by the reaction of oxygen with carbon during a fire. Most exothermic compounds are stable, that is they cannot be easily decomposed.

EXPLOSIVE RANGE - The range of the percentage of vapour concentration by volume in the air between the upper and lower flammability limits.

FALSE CEILING - A ceiling suspended some distance below the original.

FALSE FRONT - An additional facade on the front of a building applied after the original construction.

FIBREBOARD - Building material made from felted wood and other fibres and a suitable binder. A generic term.

FIRE - The light and heat manifested by the rapid oxidation of combustible materials. A flame may be manifested but is not required.

FIRE BEHAVIOUR - The manner in which fuel ignites, flames develop and heat and fire spread.

FIRE GAS - A gaseous product of combustion, such as carton monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulphide.

FIRE PATTERN - A pattern, usually in a V shape, with the apex of the V at the low point of the burning.

FIRE POINT - The lowest temperature at which a liquid gives off sufficient flammable vapour to produce sustained combustion after the removal of the ignition source.

FIRE SEPARATION - A structural element made in accordance to Building Code requirements so that it will resist fire for a given period of time.

FIRE SPREAD - The development and travel of fire across a surface or area.

FIRE WALL - A solid wall of masonry, capable of resisting fire a specified period of time.

FLAMMABILITY - The relative ease with which various fuels ignite and burn regardless of the quantity of fuel involved.

FLAMMABLE LIQUID - A liquid with a flash point below 38 degrees Celsius.

FLAMMABLE RANGE - The percentage of either flammable vapour or gas concentrations in the ambient air by volume at which combustion will take place.

FLAMMABLE VAPOUR - A vapour/air mixture of any concentration within the flammability range of that vapour.

FLASHOVER - The stage of a fire whereby a room or other confined area becomes so heated that the flames flash over and through the vapours being produced by heated combustible contents in the space.

FLASH POINT - The temperature at which a liquid vaporizes to form an ignitable mixture with oxygen.

FUEL LOAD - The total quantity of combustible contents of a building, space, or fire area, including interior finish and trim, expressed in heat units or the equivalent weight in wood.

GYPROC - Generic term for a wall sheathing material made of gypsum sandwiched between paper covering. Usually ½" or 5/8" thick. Sheetrock.

HYDROCARBONS - Petroleum products and natural gas are mixtures of several hydrocarbons.

IGNITION - The beginning of a flame propagation or burning. The start of a fire.

IGNITION TEMPERATURE - The minimum temperature to which a fuel must be heated in order to initiate or cause self-sustained combustion independent of another heat source.

INKBLOT PATTERN - Term used to describe a liquid accelerant bum pattern.

KINDLING TEMPERATURE - The ignition temperature of wood.

LIQUIFIED PETROLEUM GASES (LPG) - There are three main categories: Propane, Butane and Pentane. Derived from natural gas wells and oil refinery separation.

MELTING POINT - The temperature at which a substance passes from a solid into a liquid state.

MUSHROOMING - A condition in which fire and heated gas rise to the uppermost point inside a building or room and begin to build down laterally to other areas.

OPEN FLAME - A visual flame that is usually free burning.

OVERHAULING - A process involving the final extinguishment of embers after the main body of a fire has been extinguished. Searching for any remaining traces of fire and embers.

PETROLEUM PRODUCTS - Oils made by distilling (heating) crude petroleum. It produces such products as gasoline, kerosene and fuel oil.

PITTING - A condition which takes place between electrical contacts when they are loose and energized. It can cause the formation of copper oxide, which can resist the flow of the current and cause overheating. Can also occur in heated glass when subjected to sudden cooling from water.

PLASTICS - A loose term used to designate a wide range of substances which are capable of being moulded. Commonly made from petroleum products.

POINT OF ORIGIN - The exact point where a fire started.

PRIMARY FIRE - The established point of origin of a fire.

PROBABLE CAUSE - Reasonable cause; having more evidence for than against. A reasonable ground for belief, given the known existing facts.

PROCESS OF ELIMINATION -The most useful and efficient method of determining the origin and cause of a fire.

PROPAGATION OF FIRE - The spreading of fire from one point to another.

PUDDLING EFFECT - When a spilled liquid accelerant flows to its lowest level due to gravity, and then pools to form a puddle.

PYROLYSIS - The transformation of a substance into one or more other substances by heat alone without oxidation.

PYROPHORIC ACTION - The chemical decomposition of wood due to the continuous or intermittent application of heat.

PYROPHORIC CARBON - A carbonaceous composition of wood which is caused by the continuous or intermittent application of heat. A form of charcoal.

RADIATION FEEDBACK - Heat from a fire that radiates back to the fuel causing increased vapour production.

RESISTANCE - The property of a material which makes it resist the flow of electricity through it.

SCORCHING - The early partial combustion of a surface, usually due to exposure to a heat source.

SEAT OF THE FIRE - The area where the main body of the fire is located, as determined by the outward movement of heat and gases; where the fire is deep-seated.

SECONDARY FIRE - A fire caused by a primary fire, eg: a drop fire could cause a secondary fire a considerable distance from the point of origin.

SHORT CIRCUIT - The convergence of two uninsulated wires of different potentials.

SMOULDERING - To burn and probably smoke without flame; to exist in a state of suppressed activity. Can result in high heat release when oxygen is plentiful.

SPALLING - Destruction of a surface by frost, heat, corrosion, or mechanical causes. Concrete exposed to intense heat may spall explosively. Expansion and contraction of the concrete as well as vaporizing moisture contained in the concrete contribute to this effect. It does not necessarily mean an accelerant was used.

SPATTER EFFECT - When a liquid accelerant is poured onto a floor and spatters or runs in finger patterns. When ignited, it will burn in this pattern.

SPILL FIRE - The ignition and subsequent combustion of a flammable or combustible liquid inadvertently released from a container.

SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION - A term normally used to denote the chemical process of both spontaneous heating and subsequent spontaneous ignition.

SPONTANEOUS IGNITION - Ignition and fire due to the self-heating process encountered in certain fires. The first onset of burning or fire in a combustible material which has been heated without external heat.

SPONTANEOUS IGNITION TEMPERATURE - The minimum temperature at which the self-heating properties of a substance can lead to ignition. Variations can occur due to specimen size, rate of heat loss, moisture content, etc.

SUBLIMATION - A change of state in a material directly from a solid to a gas or from a gas to a solid without passing through a liquid state concurrent to a rise or fall-in temperature.

THERMAL COLUMN - Column of smoke and gases given off by fires moving upwards because heated gases expand and become lighter and rise. Chimney effect.

TIMING DEVICE - A device used by an arsonist to allow a fire to start electrically or mechanically at a given time. Electric timers, hair dryers, clocks, light bulbs and other devices are typical.

TRAILERS - Trails of fast burning materials used by arsonists as fuses to rapidly spread a fire throughout a structure or area.

UNDETERMINED - When there is one or more probable fire causes, but none are conclusive.

UPPER LIMIT OF FLAMMABILITY - The highest percentage of concentration by volume of flammable vapour mixed with air which will bum with a flame.

VANITY FIRE - A fire set by an individual to gain recognition, such as a watchman looking for a promotion.

VOLATILE LIQUID - Liquid which has a tendency to vaporize and evaporate.

V PATTERN - Characteristic cone-shaped pattern left by a fire on a wall or other object at or near its point of origin. Also, one which has developed because of a secondary fire


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