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Thursday, October 20, 2005

Fire Blankets: A Very Good Thing

There are very few science lessons from school that I remember. I was never a scientist or a mathematician, aside from a brief flirtation with Salter Science kits in the mid to late eighties, and evenings doing sums my father wrote for me on lovely coloured sheets of paper. No, it was fairly obvious that I was destined to be the type of student writing long essays on questions to which there are no right or wrong answers rather than the type of student who proves there is only one right answer to an equation. As a result, science was often something to be endured rather than enjoyed.

In fact, there's probably only one science lesson that really stands out in my memory. It happened when I was about sixteen. The subject of the lesson was the fire triangle. It's testimony to how memorable the lesson was that I can actually still remember - some ten years later - the principles of said triangle (unlike the carbon cycle, and the oxygen cycle, and the uni cycle, and all those other illustrative diagrams I never truly learnt in science).

The fire triangle states that there are three things a fire needs in order to prosper: fuel, heat, and oxygen. If any one of those is removed, the fire cannot burn.

Now this obviously isn't inherently memorable. Unless, perhaps, you're a pyromaniac. Which, to be clear, I'm not. I'm the anxious type, remember. It took me until I was about twenty to have the nerve to light a match.

No, it was memorable because of the answer one student gave to a question we were asked about said triangle.

My teacher, to her credit, was trying to take the theoretical construct of the fire triangle and make it real for us by giving a hypothetical situation. So she asked what we would do if - picking a student at random from the class - Emily was on fire.

Now if you've been following along, you will know that the answer is that we need to cut off one corner of the fire triangle. Which one, though? Well, the fire already seems to have fuel (that'd be Emily). And it has heat - it's a fire, of course it's bloody hot. But what about oxygen? We could cut off the oxygen. We could grab the fire blanket in the corner of the classroom, put it on Emily, and discover that since the fire no longer had oxygen, Emily would no longer be alight, but simply slightly singed. Ah, the fire triangle!

Now had someone given this - the "correct" answer - the chances are that I would no longer remember the details of the fire triangle. No, it was the answer that was given which has ensured the fire triangle will be burnt into my mind for the rest of time (burnt - do you see?):

Teacher: "So, a fire needs fuel, heat, and oxygen to burn. If you cut off any one of those things, the fire cannot burn. So, OK, bearing that in mind, what would you do if, say, Emily was on fire?"
Student raises hand.
Teacher: "Yes?"
Student: "Pour petrol on her".

(It sounds harsh but, believe me, Emily was a bit of a bitch. This answer was actually fairly reasonable. Were I not a pacifist who is unable to harm a fly, I would have been pouring a little petrol on Emily in this hypothetical situation.)

I bring all this up because I have been reminded in recent days that fire blankets are very good things. Not only can they cut off one corner of the fire triangle, thus making said fire no longer, er, fire-ish, but because they can also serve as the pseudonym of our latest, lovely McReadie Nuggets fan - Mr Fire Blanket.

My recent break from the world of blogging meant it took me a little while to discover that Fire Blanket has said some truly lovely things about my ramblings. No, really, it's true. I know you doubt it, but it's true. It's true. Goddamit - go and take a look for yourself if you don't believe me. Look: here!

Needless to say, I have been very touched and flattered by Fire Blanket's very kind words, and my ego has been inflated to ever more monstrous proportions.

And Fire Blanket is not just great because he thinks I am great (though, admittedly, that helps). He is also great because, unlike me, he is using blogging for the greater good. He has A Big Idea. And a very good Big Idea it is too.

You're intrigued, aren't you? Well, fear not. I'll tell you all about The Magnificent Big Idea in the next post. Ah, the suspense! It's almost like the anticipation I felt when wondering if anyone else would pipe up with comedy answers to the Emily Fire Triangle Question ("OK, I know petrol was wrong, Miss... How about alcohol? Wood? Anything that's highly flammable?")


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