It is has been often said about military operations and sporting contests that success hinges on knowing the enemy. For firefighters the enemy is not another person, which means that rather than guess on tendencies or tells, the best firefighters have a keen scientific knowledge of what causes fire. Of all the elements found on earth the three that are the most important to firefighters are carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. The elements are common in household products such as paper, wood, cloth, plastics and flammable liquids.
Combustion occurs when oxygen rapidly combines with a combustible material to create heat. Heat is the release of energy that is the result of a chemical reaction. Solid materials are made up of tightly packed molecules. The tighter that the molecules are packed the more an object weighs.
Heated molecules start to move, and as the temperature increases the more rapidly they go. As the speed of molecules increase it becomes more and more likely that the molecules will combine with molecules of another element by colliding with those molecules. When combustion occurs the oxygen molecules in the air combine with fuel molecules and form oxides.
This is where the heat energy comes from. Fires should be considered energy, and proper fire training should treat fire as such. Thus it is important to teach how this type of energy is produced, transferred and most importantly reduced. All combustible objects contain potential energy, which is released as heat and as light after the substance is ignited.
Heat and temperature are not the same. Temperature is the measure of the average molecular velocity and it indicates the intensity of heat at a given moment and location.
Knowing why a fire started and how it is contained means understanding energy. Energy is never created or destroyed, it is only converted into another form. Heat energy is transferred to cool water, but the key to stopping a fire is starving it. Without access to oxygen all fires will die out. Know that could be the key to preventing a disaster.