The Fatal fire on Apollo 1 and what was learned from it

The mission for a man to walk on the moon changed forever in 1967, when a flash fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module during a launch rehearsal test. Three astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died despite the best efforts of the ground crew. It would take more than 18 months, and extensive re-designs, before NASA sent more men into space.

NASA was given an ambitious goal, set by President Kennedy in 1961, to land a man on the moon and return him safely to Earth by the end of the decade. Earlier Mercury and Gemini flights had been the first steps toward that goal, testing how humans behaved in space and how to do technical spacecraft procedures such as rendezvous. Now the Apollo missions would take astronauts all the way to walk on the moon.

But on this particular test, there was a myriad of problems which pointed towards the tragedy. Apollo 1 had its difficulties from the onset and the astronauts were frustrated that developments so far had not included their consultation. That morning, the astronauts donned their suits and detected a strange smell in the breathing oxygen: this took about an hour to repair. Then the communications system malfunctioned, voices were muffled, and the control tower struggled to hear the astronauts. Suddenly, one word sent shockwaves to those outside. ‘Fire!’ Engineers raced immediately to the capsule and fought to open the heavy and cumbersome door, but as it was eventually prised open, the tragic scene unfolded.

After the fire which claimed the lives of the three astronauts, the NASA review board found there had been a stray spark, probably from damaged wires, and this had probably started the fire in the pure oxygen environment. Flammable features such as nylon netting and foam pads, fuelled the blaze and it quickly spread.

Additionally, the hatch door, intended to keep the astronauts and the atmosphere securely inside the spacecraft, was too tough to open from the outside in an emergency. The astronauts had struggled in vain to open the door during the fire, but the pressure inside the spacecraft sealed the door and made it impossible to open.

The investigation listed a damning set of circumstances, failures and recommendations for future spacecraft designers to consider.

Several changes were made to the design of the Apollo spacecraft to improve crew safety. The flammable oxygen environment for ground tests was replaced with a nitrogen-oxygen mix. Flammable items were removed. A new respect developed between the astronauts and the contractors concerning design changes, which were implemented more effectively. Most notably, the door was completely redesigned so that it would open in mere seconds when the crew needed to get out in a hurry.

The prevention of a fire was a priority in the Apollo missions after the tragedy. It is interesting to note that in the original incident report of the Apollo 1 tragedy it mentions that a portable fire extinguishers would be included specifically for future Apollo missions – might this mean that Apollo 1 did not have a fire extinguisher at all? A chilling thought. For all your fire safety needs including fire risk assessments, installation and maintenance of fire alarms, smoke alarms, extinguishers, fire blankets and fire safety training for your staff contact us at Bath & West Fire & Safety.

‘Flame’ Restaurant evacuated after real Fire

A restaurant that prides itself on its spectacular real flame-based cuisine in Northern Ireland was caught up in the drama of an out of control fire recently. Five appliances including one helicopter attended the blaze when over 40 diners, hotel guests and staff were evacuated. The popular restaurant is in the centre of Belfast, and offers steaks, chops and even puddings seared, flamed and grilled in full view of the diners in an open plan kitchen located in the heart of the restaurant. There is also a Tandoori oven which is traditionally heated from a coal fire to make authentic tasting Tandoor dishes. But it would appear that the fire did not originate from any of the cooking appliances, but from the extractors designed to whisk the smoke away.

Because of the nature of cooking, fires in any restaurant kitchen are almost an occupational hazard. Special considerations need to be made as to the appliances used, the layout of the kitchen and restaurant, and the methods used to cook food. A professional risk assessment should be carried out. Staff should receive specialist training in how to deal with the unexpected.

But back to Flame. On that night all the staff and customers were evacuated safely. Flame’s speciality might have been to use fire as a flamboyant cooking tool and give food that flavour of a fire, but that would mean extra vigilance between a good flame and a bad flame, and the skills to know what to do next.

For all your fire safety needs including fire risk assessments, installation and maintenance of fire alarms, smoke alarms, extinguishers, fire blankets and fire safety training for your staff contact us at Bath & West Fire & Safety.

Are these wildfires the end of the Californian Dream?

California has hit the headlines yet again with another round of huge wildfires. Iconic areas such as Malibu have been lit up with flames, homes and treasured possessions destroyed, as residents face the dilemma of abandoning their beautiful residences or staying to try to protect and divert the fires from destroying all in their wake. Sadly, some people have lost their lives in the battle against the elements. But the fires rage on, and even small smoulders have started the whole misery again and again. Firefighters have had their numbers swelled by prison inmates, volunteering to assist in the relentless battle against the fires.

But this is nothing new in California. The weather in a typical Californian spring, summer and autumn is hot, arid and windy and there is plenty of parched vegetation – perfect conditions for even a tiny spark to mean devastation. Statistics show that wildfires are a regular occurrence, with over 9,000 fires reported in 2017 and 1,300,000 acres of land affected. But it does seem that California is getting warmer and some think this may be to do with climate change.

Wildfires are only part of the story in California. Earthquakes, floods, and landslides have hit the area hard over the years and destroyed beautiful homes in their wake. Images of devastation fill the newspapers as history seems to repeat itself in this American state of dreams and famous places – Hollywood, LA, Disneyland, Silicon Valley, Malibu, Carmel, San Francisco, Yosemite; surely every time the dream house gets built there must be the anxiety that someday the whole lot will come crashing down for one reason or another.

But despite all this, California remains one of the most sought-after areas to live in the USA with opulent properties in demand for tens of millions of dollars and many stars of stage and screen making the Golden state their home. So, will this latest spate of wildfires be the end of the Californian Dream? Probably not. Be it good, bad or ugly, the Golden state of California is iconic – that’s why! For all your fire safety needs including fire risk assessments, installation and maintenance of fire alarms, smoke alarms, extinguishers, fire blankets and fire safety training for your staff contact us at Bath & West Fire & Safety.

The Candle Flames that light up in the memory of those Fallen

This Sunday marks 100 years since Armistice Day, when, on the 11th hour of the 11th day on the 11th month in 1918, World War I, known then as the Great War, the guns fell silent and an armistice was declared. And in this year of 2018, until Sunday, 10,000 candles a night will illuminate the Tower of London for this memorial.

The installation is called ‘Beyond the Deepening Shadow’ and it will surely mean different things to different people: as the candles burn some may remember the stories of relatives killed in the conflict, some may reflect on the people who survived the war and went on to re-build their lives, some may think of the memorial inscriptions around the world to those fallen from many towns, villages and work places, and some may simply ponder the massive loss of life of a generation past.

The 10,000 candles will be placed in the dry moat which surrounds The Tower of London. It will take around 45 minutes for the lights to be lit by volunteers and they will burn for approximately 4 hours. Illuminating the spectacular backdrop of the Tower of London, the candle lights will be accompanied by a specially commissioned choral work called Sonnets to a Soldier, as well as a sonic exploration of the shifting tide of political alliances, friendship, love and loss in war.

Described as an evolving spectacle, lighting this number of candles is an operation which requires a lot of organisation. Volunteers will be put into pairs and given a particular ‘zone’ to light. Each pair consisting of a ‘leader’ with a magnetic hook to lift a metal cover off each holder, followed by a ‘lighter’ who carries a tiny blowtorch on the end of a rod to light each flame. Volunteers have had fire safety training and have all been issued with special grey coloured and flame-resistant boiler-suits – to blend into the backdrop of the Tower.

Beyond the Deepening Shadow starts at around 5pm every night, it is free to visit, and runs until Sunday.