Students devise a fire extinguisher

2015-12-03 06:00
 Proffesor Harro von Blottnitz, Desania Govender, Yandisa Sojola and Arthur Madontsela during the presentation on Friday.  PHOTO: Mandla MAhashe

Proffesor Harro von Blottnitz, Desania Govender, Yandisa Sojola and Arthur Madontsela during the presentation on Friday. PHOTO: Mandla MAhashe

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Summer is here and the scourge of shack fires continues to cause devastation in informal settlements.

This past weekend five people died and more than 4000 were left homeless when shack fires ripped through Masiphumelele, in Muizenberg and Joe Slovo in Langa.

However, two University of Cape Town students are one step closer to finding a solution to this problem. Final year chemical engineering students Desania Govender and Yandisa Sojola have devised a low cost home-made fire extinguisher.

On Friday, the duo presented their device as part of their thesis at the Chemical Engineering Building at UCT’s Upper Campus.

The device is an updated version of an initial device devised by two high school learners. According to the duo the initial device could only put out wood and cardboard fires, which are categorised as Class A fires.

“We have tried to improve on the device so that it can extinguish fires caused mainly by flammable liquids such as paraffin and petrol, including shack fires (Class B fires),” said Govender.

They added dishwashing liquid in their updated version as a foaming agent.

A foaming agent is needed in Class B fires to prevent the flammable liquid from coming into contact with oxygen in the air.

The duo say that this Do-It-Yourself fire extinguisher is quite easy to make and affordable as it requires ordinary household materials which are vinegar, water, sodium bicarbonate, an empty 2 litre cool drink bottle, plastic fruit bag, a spring from a pen, a wine cork, paper clips and masking tape.

“Assembling the fire extinguisher is quite easy and can be done in just under 30 min,” they added.

The shelf-life of the device has not been verified, though, as the students said the longest they have kept it unused was only two weeks.

The efficacy of the fire extinguisher is beyond doubt, though, they said.

“We are not quite sure as to the duration that one can keep it, but it has been very effective in putting out fires in our tests,” said Sojola. The two believe that even though their device is not a final product, it is a step in the right direction.

“As yet we cannot encourage people to use it but it has been quite effective and quite easy to us. To activate the extinguisher, you only need to push down the nail to pierce the bag inside the bottle, aim the foam jet at the fire, shake and then squeeze the bottle. We also recommend turning the bottle upside down for easier aim,” they said. It is not advisable to use the device on electrical fires, though, they said.

They are encouraging other young minds or organisations to take the baton to improve the device.

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