For centuries, people have fought fires with the same basic formula: Put the wet stuff on the hot stuff. But today, firefighters are using new techniques and technology to battle their old enemy And they need to--their old enemy has acquired new tricks. Thanks to the widespread introduction of synthetic building materials over the last three decades, urban fires now often burn two to three times as fiercely as a typical fire in 1980. What's more, those materials release volatile gases that concentrate at the highest point in a room. If ignited, they can cause a chemical chain reaction that sends flames exploding across the ceiling; it's called flashover, and it's one of the most dangerous things that can happen in a building fire. To confront these conflagrations, fire crews are turning to a new tactic known as 3-D firefighting, which involves shooting bursts of fog from their hoses rather than jets of water. That fog cools the gases, allowing the firefighters to get into the room and douse the flames. They're also experimenting with huge fans that push smoke and heat out of their way, and even out of the building. Helmet-mounted thermal-imaging cameras help them see where the hottest areas are and where people are trapped. And when they're back out of the building, firefighters can relax in a modified lawn chair equipped with body-cooling water pockets. You can see all these methods and gadgets put to the test in the WIRED Science segment above. And check out how satellites and other sky-high technologies are also being used to fight fires.moreless
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