Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Uselessness of Fire Extinguishers

Fire Extinguisher
Uploaded by Points North
on 28 Oct '06, 10.04am EDT.


So there I was in the hardware store, looking for a new smoke alarm when I thought I'd check out the fire extinguishers. I had this wild idea that in the 21st century some brilliant design engineer would have finally redesigned home or kitchen fire extinguishers so that one can use them easily. Currently, the designers of modern extinguishers expect the average person to:

1. Look at the instructions on the extinguisher and go through the motions of using it once a week. Peope barely remember to change the batteries in their smoke alarms once a year, yet apparently safety equipment designers believe that when it comes to extinguishers, people will be much more conscientious.

2. In an emergency where seconds count -- as fire fighters and safety personnel tell us all the time -- one is expected to
(a) stay absolutely calm and ignore the fight or flight chemicals racing through your body
(b) maintain one's cognitive reasoning ability despite the fact one's body has gone into instinct mode
(c) know where one's fire extinguisher is
(d) find said extinguisher and here's the tricky part...
(e) use it on the fire.

I say "tricky part" because the extinguisher is not designed to be used by anyone who has not practiced using it ad infinitum. Nothing about the pin, where it's located, how to distinguish it from other possible pin parts, and how to remove it, is easy to see or intuitive to use. It is most definitely not designed for dummies.

To figure out where the right pin is and how to remove it takes serious observation and cognitive reasoning skills (or muscle memory from intensive practice), both not highly accessible in an -- OMG my house is going to burn down!!! -- emergency.

So as I'm looking at the most current selection of fire extinguishers, I realise they're as functionally useless as the one I have now. If you cannot use the device, then the device is useless. I will have a better chance of saving my house from a kitchen fire with the phone.

"Hello? 911. What is your emergency?"

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