Fire-fighting vehicles have evolved into highly specialized equipment. Ladder trucks provide access to buildings as much as 100 ft (30 m) high; snorkel trucks enable firefighters to douse fires from above. In addition, modern fire apparatus includes rescue trucks, mobile laboratories, searchlight cars, double-ended tunnel engines, smoke ejectors, high-pressure spray trucks, foam trucks, and even coffee wagons. For fires of long duration there are tank trucks to bring extra fuel to the pumpers. The modern diesel pump delivers about 2,000 gal per min (8,000 liters per min) through lightweight hose 1 in. (2.5 cm) to 2.5 in. (6.3 cm) in diameter, reinforced with artificial fibers. A fireboat, not limited to hydrant supply, can deliver as much as 10,000 gal per min (40,000 liters per min). Airports have specially equipped crash trucks, and refineries have chemical applicators.
The commonly seen metal cylinder with a short hose attached is the soda-and-acid extinguisher; inside it, above a solution of soda and water, is a container of acid. When the extinguisher is inverted, the acid mixes with the solution and reacts with the soda to generate carbon dioxide; gas pressure then forces the solution out of the hose. A foam extinguisher is a cylinder containing water, sodium bicarbonate, an agent (often licorice powder) for strengthening the foam, and an inner container of aluminum sulfate powder. Mixed together, these ingredients form a foam of carbon dioxide bubbles. A carbon dioxide extinguisher consists of a tank of liquid carbon dioxide under pressure. When released, the carbon dioxide forms flakes that vaporize and blanket the fire.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.