Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a highly toxic chemical used in everyday products to improve our lives. Used in biodiesel production, waste water treatments, racing fuel and even everyday products such as paint, it is a colourless, organic liquid at room temperature that’s completely water-soluble and an easily ignitable hydrocarbon in air. When burning, it gives off a blue flame, but when looking at it in daylight it looks invisible. When it comes to methanol fires, how do you fight something you cannot see?
How to prevent a methanol fire:
1. Avoid hot work being done:
Never use machinery that produces sparks around methanol. Methods such as grinding, welding, cutting, brazing should be avoided at all costs due to methanol’s high flammability properties. Using these methods around methanol tanks could very easily cause an explosion resulting in death.
Offer and attend hot work training programmes on Fire Protection Advice and Assistance around methanol. Being uninformed is extremely dangerous. Rather be safe than sorry.
How to fight a methanol fire:
1. Use infrared:
Since a methanol fire is difficult to see in broad daylight, use infrared to spot the exact location of the fire. If you don’t have infrared, methanol fires can be spot by a glistening effect, similar to that of an asphalt road on a hot day.
2. Use a dry chemical fire extinguisher:
Using a combination of water, foam and a dry, chemical fire extinguisher will do the job on a small methanol fire. The powder of the fire extinguisher will smother and break the chain of the chemical. Always use protective gear to prevent inhalation and smoke getting into your eyes.
· Exposure to your skin or eyes:
Immediately wash off methanol touching your skin and rinse your eyes if it made contact. Seek immediate medical care.
· Inhaling methanol fumes:
Remove yourself from the location immediately and breathe in clean air. Methanol inhalation can cause headaches, confusion as well as loss of consciousness. Seek immediate medical attention
· Consuming methanol:
Many confuse wood alcohol for normal alcohol. Methanol is extremely toxic and can be fatal even with a ¼ cup of consumption. Seek medical attention immediately.