Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Can't start a fire without a spark

I just got back from Utah. The white stuff in the picture is salt.

I went on a very educational tour of a rocket propellant manufacturer. No matches or lighters are allowed on the grounds of this facility. However there is still a little bunker where employees can go for cigarette breaks and light their cigarettes with a non-portable electric lighter.

The building where the rocket propellant is mixed has tubular slides sprouting Willy-Wonka-fashion from every floor of the building. These are escape chutes so that, if one were filled with an intense desire to get out of the building as quickly as possible, one could jump into a chute and slide to the ground.

About twenty years ago, there was an incident when static electricity caused some sparks inside the building. Of the four or five people inside the building, one actually made it into the tube and slid all the way to the ground. However, instead of then moving off to one side as he had been clearly instructed by the safety procedures, he just kept running in a straight line. The flames raced down the tube and shot out after him like a jet setting him on fire. He lived for twenty-four hours during which he was able to give some account of the accident.

I am thinking this escape chute could possibly be better designed, maybe with some kind of flame arrester curtain at the bottom and vents to redirect the blast.


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