back to article Comms room, comms room, comms room is on fire – we don't need no water, let the engineer burn

As you shut down and wait for Windows or macOS to spend the usual hour installing updates before your weekend can begin, spare a thought for those on the other end of the phone in The Register's weekly On Call column. A reader, who we shall call "David", was reminded by our Away Team episode of his own data centre drama a …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

    If you manage to catch a fire when it is just starting, you likely have a good chance of stopping it without much risk - with the proper equipment, of course.

    However, we're talking seconds, here. If the fire has had more than a minute to get going, you're most likely not going to succeed in putting it out and you're taking a much bigger risk. If the fire has been going for five minutes or more, just get out and call the fire department.

    1. 4whatitsworth

      Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

      Im pretty sure fire is generally thought to double in intensity every minute. Therefore it can very rapidly get out of control.

      1. NightFox

        Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

        Cool, at least most people on here should be comfortable calculating binary magnitudes.

        Calls fire brigade: "yes, it's now 65536 times worse than when it started"

      2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

        Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

        "

        Im pretty sure fire is generally thought to double in intensity every minute.

        "

        Not when I'm trying to get the BBQ going it doesn't.

        1. TeeCee Gold badge
          Meh

          Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

          Hmm, yes. Whenever I see the Fire Brigade trotting out their latest and greatest extinguishing apparatus at a massive conflagration I always think it's got nothing on a British summer afternoon's drizzle....

          1. willi0000000

            Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

            of course not . . . i'm an old (so not reliable in the memory department) but i remember seeing an item stating that no forest fire here on the left side of the pond has ever been put out by firefighters . . . it's always eventually extinguished by rain.

            it figures as no fire truck can carry the amount of water that a 100,000 ton cloud can.

            1. Giovani Tapini Silver badge
              Boffin

              Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

              @willi0000000 given the proxy cloud in a certain holiday advert would weigh in at near 300 tons your 100000 ton one is still nowhere near big enough. Clouds are surprisingly heavy...

              1. Baldrickk Silver badge
                Meh

                Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

                [pedant]surprisingly massive[/pedant]

      3. Kiwi Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

        Im pretty sure fire is generally thought to double in intensity every minute. Therefore it can very rapidly get out of control.

        Many years ago I lived on a hill street where the houses had enough space underneath to stand up. Many of the places, including my uphill neighbour's, had a full-sized doorway leading to an area set up with shelving much like a garden shed or small workshop. These neighbours had all sorts of stuff stored there from years of living in the same place.

        3 generations lived there - the grandmother, the parents and the kids.

        I got home from work one day to see their eldest boy (then about 8 or 9) running out from under the place, and some smoke coming out as well. I walked closer to the fence and saw a small amount of flame - not even the size of a decent wastebin fire (I mean deskside bin with a half a dozen balled bits of A4). I raced inside, yelled to my GF to call the fire brigade, and went outside for the garden hose.

        She was outside a moment later, fire engines on the way (but not sure why). She saw what was going on, gave them more details, then rushed into the neighbour's house to alert them (kid was nowhere to be seen). The father came out while the mother got the rest of them outside. The father grabbed their hose and helped. Thankfully close to the fire station so we had extra help inside of 5 minutes - we were barely able to keep the fire under control let alone stop it.

        It was clear that had I gotten home even a couple of minutes later, both our houses could've been lost. But more - the grandmother was bed-ridden and probably wouldn't have made it out in time if it hadn't been for my initial water slowing the spread of the fire (had I thrown a rock through their window and started yelling, bringing the father out earlier, we probably could've stopped it with both our hoses). If I'd gone inside their house - the fire was under the old girl's bedroom and with the way things were stacked, good chance we wouldn't have got her out. It would normally take me about 10 minutes to get home from work back then - any small change to the length of time of the trip shorter or longer (eg if I've been inside my house before the boy ran out from under his)

        They lost a lot of family memorabilia, and the framing underneath needed some repair work, but the house still stands (and while it's still 3 generations, 2 of them have moved up a notch...) There is still signs of the charring to the top of the door frame.

        I don't consider this anything even remotely heroic as I could've backed away at any time and don't think I was in any fashion in any risk.

        I've been in two house fires (counting the above). Fire spreads amazingly fast when it wants to[1]. 30 seconds is a hell of a long time when you have a fire kicking off. Slow it down (and get your extinguisher as close to the source/seat of the fire as you can), but get someone on to the emergency services quickly. If you can, get a sprinkler or other suppression system installed but don't expect them to do much more than slow things down. If you can't slow it down, get everyone out as quickly as you can. In many cases you've only got 10 seconds from when it starts to stop it with any ease. 30 seconds and it's probably beyond a garden hose, 1 minute and anyone inside is toast.

        As to the kid? I didn't see him for a few days, but middle of the next week he brought over a very nice meal he'd spent much of the day making, and was both very apologetic and very thankful. He'd been playing with candles and dropped one on some empty cardboard boxes... I understand it was another week before he was able to sit down...

        [1] As others have said - why is my damned BBQ so hard to start? Why do I need 3 goes, even with the best kindling and fire starters, to get the house warming up? Fire is alive I tell you, and has a rather sadistic/vindictive mind of its own!

      4. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

        Yep.

        take a look at the following youtube clips : below 10 sec the fire is tame, but after that all bets are off.

        (nongraphic - NIST testing)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxiOXZ55hbc

        (graphic, the real deal)

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9e_19dUezCQ

        1. Kiwi Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

          take a look at the following youtube clips : below 10 sec the fire is tame, but after that all bets are off.

          (nongraphic - NIST testing)

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxiOXZ55hbc

          Thanks That shows a lot of what I was saying before, and also very much reminds me of the fire I talked of (though that did grow slower and thanks to being near the doorway less smoke for me). You see just after the minute mark how quickly the smoke descends. What you don't really see is how hot the smoke is, although you can see some hints of flames rushing across the ceiling almost like waves (mostly hidden by smoke). At 1:12 you can see what looks like the wooden panneling on the left side catching fire, although it may be something like curtains or whatever the black stuff is on the wall. Think you can survive standing in a room like that for even a few seconds?

          (graphic, the real deal)

          No thanks. I truly have had some nasty experiences with fire :( I'll take your word for it.

          There are lots of testing and training videos on fire on youtube though, they can be scary but also very educational - and for those of us brought up on movies like "backdraft" and other stuff where people are standing upright in rooms filled with massive amounts of flame but strangely little or no smoke and running up stairwells that are "well involved" yet somehow able to see and breath.. Well, people need to know what it really gets like so they don't make the mistake of standing up in a fire - which can be instantly fatal - not that you'll die instantly, but you won't survive the experience as your lungs can be burnt out quite badly. No, not every time, but a very good chance of it.

        2. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

          Also found this from NIST - one of the scenarios from my post above, but with sprinklers.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT1EWVR1iP8

          Whilst the fire is not 100% contained, it do give you time to get the hell out of there and leave the fire fighting over to the professionals.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

      The rule that I remember reading once was if you just caused the fire, you maybe able to put it out safely. Other wise, forget it and get the hell out of there.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

      When the fire starts to burn,

      There's a lesson you must learn

      Something something then you'll see

      You'll avoid catastrophe...

      D'oh

    4. Dave 32
      Flame

      Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

      > If the fire has been going for five minutes or more, just get out and call the fire department.

      and then fetch the marshmallows. No sense letting a perfectly good fire go to waste.

    5. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

      I'll just add my $0.02. If you have a fire, even if you are certain you've put it out, call the fire department.

      They would much rather check out a false alarm than have a smolder fire flare up hours later.

      Fire blankets are great, since you use them to put fires out, or to escape.

    6. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

      It also depends on how much instruction you have had. In a previous role I was trained, along with everyone else, in how to choose what sort of extinguisher to use on what sort of fire and how to deploy them. We each got to fire off an extinguisher and put out a fire. I was there long enough to do it twice.

      We had fun the second time. The troughs where the fires were lit were in the apron shielded on three sides leading to the cobalt source (HIGHLY radioactive) off a carpark. We lit an oil fire in a trough which was smoky. It was being put out when we noticed the head of security pelting down the hill pulling on a fire fighting jacket and looking extremely scared.

      The smoke had blown in through the vents in the cobalt source vestibule and triggered a fire alarm. FIRE IN THE COBALT SOURCE! went off in the security office. A mini Chernobyl scenario. His colleague who was taking our course was amused and able to talk his head down who looked mightily relieved.

      We had a fire in the lab. Alcohol in a poorly chosen plastic beaker. It was dealt with by dumping the beaker in a deep stainless sink and throwing the fire blanket on it. The melted beaker was put up with a label on it as a cautionary lesson. We learned it and practice changed in two ways.

      Here in Dundee the Cat4 lab (infectious agents) caught fire. The local fire brigade in their wisdom decided to break the windows to let the smoke out (they were very, very deliberately not able to be opened, not simply locked. Fortunately the fire had sealed the infectious agents in their incubators. But a plume containing disease causing viruses and bacteria was a possibility. That was a water bath which had boiled dry AND whose thermal cutoff didn't work.

      1. J. R. Hartley Silver badge

        Re: "the (suicidal?) bravery (stupidity?) of our colleague"

        Fuck me

  2. Lee D Silver badge

    Batteries are an energy store.

    If they go wrong, they are a bomb like any other large energy store. You think there's more energy in the car-batteries used to power KW of servers for an hour, or little box of fireworks? Which would you rather set off in your datacentre?

    And people drastically underestimate batteries all the time. A charging lead acid is giving off flammable hydrogen or - at best - absorbing that flammable hydrogen in a gel designed to capture enough to last the stated life of the battery (no longer). Over-using batteries, means a build of gas. Charging batteries means gas potentially being released (jump-starting a car has an order of operations because if you follow it, you don't risk a spark near the battery (negative charge to CHASSIS as the last thing) because the being charged battery will be giving off hydrogen).

    Failure to maintain, short circuits, an old or faulty battery, all these things result in an outpouring of sulphuric acid, hydrogen or high electrical power enough to melt spanners in some cases (I have relayed an anecdote about that before). Lead-acid tend not to have short-circuit protection, either.

    Sure, it's rare, unlikely, etc. but when it happens the consequences can be catastrophic.

    And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

    1. Chris King Silver badge

      In some circumstances, burning lead-acid batteries will release clouds of hydrogen sulfide gas. It's very easy to die from exposure to that stuff because you can't smell it at higher concentrations, and people make the mistake of thinking that it has dissipated.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I can attest to this. in a previous role our server room was pretty sh1te and didn't have a room UPS just had 15 or so racks with a mixture of APC2200 SMART UPS and the XL versions. Anyway one day we had reports of a funny smell, now two things, 1 We had just had the Aircon's serviced so were keen to blame the aircon engineer who was still onsite. 2. It was in a lab so we quite often had funny smells around! Anyway a couple of us took a trip to the server room and yep smell of hydrogen Sulfide (rotten egg smell) hmmmm not the aircon my money is on a UPS. Much groping around at floor level trying to sniff out he offending UPS, until I touched the bevel of one and feck me it was HOT!!! Quick dash to get the thing unplugged on to a trolly and out of the building, not easy when it weighs in at around 9 stone!

    2. PerlyKing Bronze badge
      Mushroom

      Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

      As opposed to petrol? They're both energy stores, handle with appropriate care (see icon).

      Is diesel any safer? Genuine question.

      1. IanRS

        Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

        Diesel is harder to ignite. Drop a lit cigarette on a diesel spill and it will probably go out. However, diesel has a higher energy:volume ratio than petrol, so once it is burning...

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

          Diesel is harder to ignite.

          I used to look after the Fire Tornado at Magna in Rotherham. It runs from kerosene and yes, 100ml is deposited on a copper pan, several kW of heat is applied from underneath for a while and only once it starts evaporating can it be ignited with a spark.

          It used to be very temperamental and the correct formation of the tornado depended on many environmental factors, not least of which was the weather outside. Particularly hot and humid days would cause the thing to fail more often than it ran - failure usually meaning the oil burning off in the pan without forming the actual tornado you see in the video link.

          M.

          1. Mooseman Bronze badge

            Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

            "used to look after the Fire Tornado at Magna in Rotherham"

            Kudos to you - my children loved watching that. :)

            1. Martin an gof Silver badge
              Happy

              Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

              Thanks :-)

              I was there from about 4 weeks after opening, when almost literally everything was breaking down and they realised the original team of four technicians simply couldn't cope. For the next year or so we were a team of six, and for some reason I found that the others were quite happy to let me "tinker" with some of the more "awkward" exhibits such as the Fire Tornado and the Big Melt. Standing inside the Big Melt while it was running, trying to work out why (for example) one of the gas valves was sticking was possibly one of the best jobs I've ever had.

              Cleaning out the toilet macerators, on the other hand...

              M.

              1. cortland

                Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

                You may have my "on a ladder three feet from a full rev's spinning tale [sic*] rotor" story beat.

                * I like puns.

                1. Martin an gof Silver badge

                  Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

                  Yeah, the macerators were deadly, especially the big dual-pump unit in the basement under the main toilet stack, but I think the prize goes to a colleague who - on opening day with around 4,000 people in the building - was tasked with finding out why the loos weren't flushing properly.

                  Advice from the building's M&E engineers (who of course weren't there) was to remove a particular inspection cover on the 4" soil stack, which turned out to be the elbow at the bottom of about 30 feet of... well, you can guess.

                  There were still bits of toilet paper stuck to the kit and the walls in that basement two years later.

                  As for the "melt", it was a baby in comparison with the macerators. The biggest hazard (other than not getting too close to the hot things) was climbing into the basket welded to the crane above the show which housed lighting units, and changing lamps in things like the Martin MAC 2000. It was almost as if the people who built it thought the lamps would never need changing.

                  M.

          2. tim 13

            Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

            Hey, I was just watching my video of that yesterday. It is cool (or hot!)

        2. Spacedinvader
          Flame

          Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

          Drop a lit cigarette on a petrol spill and it will go out. I know, I've done it. Movies suck :(

          1. Robert Sneddon

            Petrol

            Yup, petrol is not flammable. Petrol VAPOUR mixed with air is another matter. Same with diesel but diesel doesn't vapourise as easily as petrol does so it's not as good a fire starter -- once the vapour is burning the heat makes the liquid fuel underneath in a spill vapourise better and rise to meet the flame front above. It's Nature's way of teaching the concept of "positive feedback" to Dunning-Kruger victims.

            1. herman Silver badge
              Flame

              Re: Petrol

              Err... The flash point of petrol is MINUS 40 degrees Celsius. So if you are living in northern Canada or Russia, then you could possibly drop a fag on petrol and it will go out, but in the rest of the world, you should not try that.

              1. VicMortimer

                Re: Petrol

                No, it really will put a cigarette out. I've done it, in Phoenix Arizona, in 40+ C heat.

                Yes, it was a fire training class with fire department supervision. We then actually lit it and used various extinguishers to put it out. We also tested stuff you should never do, like spray it with water and throw flour on it, got some cool effects going from that.

                A lit cig will break through the vapor layer and extinguish in a pool of gasoline.

                The flash point is not the autoignition temperature, that's 280C. And yes, a lit cigarette is hotter than that, but the liquid gasoline quickly cools it.

                If the pool isn't deep enough to submerge it, you would likely stand a much better chance of getting fire.

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Petrol

              Isn't it true though that NO liquids burn - things only burn in the gaseous state and the key is how volatile the liquid is. Hence at low enough temperatures petrol won't catch fire because the vapour pressure is too low to ignite.

              That's one reason why LPG can be so lethal when released as it vapourizes and forms highly flammable and indeed explosive mixes. Also, the amount of energy required to ignite a mixture varies, with H2 as an example being able to be ignited by almost any energy discharge including personal static discharge.

              1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

                Re: Petrol

                Isn't it true though that NO liquids burn

                It's all down to how well, as in how efficiently, these things burn. The higher the surface area for the chemical reaction the more efficiently something will burn. This is why gases burn better than liquids which burn better than solids. The burning of liquids is particularly complicated because liquids flow and in a "resting" state the surface area for the reaction is quite static, however creating a mist of the liquid is known to work quite well...

                For instance, a mist of petrol droplets will burn considerably better (faster) than a pool of petrol because of the greatly increased surface area of the petrol droplets. It is more complicated than this, of course, because depending on pressure and temperature petrol will turn into a gas, but in essence in a petrol engine it is liquid petrol that is being burned, not a gas. While creating a fine mist of petrol in air will cause some of this petrol to convert into gaseous form this won't happen quickly enough to make much of a difference given the cycle period of a typical internal combusion engine.

      2. Dabooka Silver badge

        Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

        The real question is the risk associated with hydrogen cells in everyday cars.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

          "the risk associated with hydrogen cells in everyday cars."

          Or trains: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/business-48698044/hydrogen-trains-are-these-the-eco-friendly-trains-of-the-future

          1. Dabooka Silver badge

            Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

            Yes I saw that yesterday.

            Somehow I feel happier about the infrastructure than for Joe Public cars, although don't ask me to explain why!

          2. cortland

            Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

            Booming down the tracks?

        2. Dabooka Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

          Not sure of the downvote here. If there is no risk would the keyboard warrior care to expand?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

            > Not sure of the downvote here. If there is no risk would the keyboard warrior care to expand?

            Not my downvote but you started your comment with a dismissive "But the real question is..." as though the risks of Li-ion batteries in cars were irrelevant.

      3. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

        Diesel is usually only explosive when it has been vapourised into a nice fuel air mix, though it is a main ingredient in car bombs when mixed with fertilizer as an oxidizing agent. I think you need something else to initiate it though.

        With charging lead acid batteries, it only takes a small amount of hydrogen sulphide to spread bits of battery and acid all over the place.

        I have a remote ducted fan to ventilate the battery shed on my PV system to dissipate any gas buildup, the fan motor is brushless too, to avoid sparks.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: And then some fool fills up a car with Li-ion...

        Petrol & Diesel need oxygen Li-ion do not. https://www.governmenteuropa.eu/lithium-ion-battery-fire-vessel/88384/

    3. Dabooka Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Great post

      You seem to be the kind of chap that could explain, briefly, the challenge in early subs / U-Boats with sea water and their batteries.

      Was it chlorine or something that was generated? I just know it was and deal when submerged under the atlantic.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Chloe Cresswell

        Re: Great post

        yeah. water + DC= hydrogen and oxygen from H2O splitting.

        salt water + dc = splitting the salt too, leaving you lots of happy chlorine atoms, which tend to be gaseous in this outcome.

        So you have a closed environment with chlorine gas.

        1. Dabooka Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Great post

          Thanks for that, and simple enough for me to understand.

          Do not underestimate the challenge in distilling something down to my level!

        2. Gnoitall
          Childcatcher

          Re: Great post

          I remember discovering this as a kid doing my own little electrolysis experiment.

          Wires for electrode, 9v battery, a couple of test tubes from my chemistry set, nice glass of water to be electrolyzed.

          I couldn't find the box of baking soda (as recommended by the directions I was reading) to make the water conductive at 9v, but I figured table salt would work.

          It did, brilliantly, but when I did the "glowing splint in the anode gas" test (ember should have flared into flame in the concentrated oxygen), it extinguished instantly and then I got a diluted whiff of chlorine gas. That was an eye-watering wakeup.

          Now banks of batteries off-gassing elemental chlorine into an enclosed metal tube full of sailors... that would be really unpleasant.

          1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: Great post

            Now banks of batteries off-gassing elemental chlorine into an enclosed metal tube full of sailors... that would be really unpleasant.

            That would be even worse than what they got, which is an off-gassing of di-chlorine molecules (Cl2), the way pure chlorine usually appears under anything approaching normal conditions.

        3. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Great post

          My understanding is that the chlorine is primarily the result of a chemical reaction rather than electrolysis. Dilute NaCl + dilute H2SO4 will not react to produce chlorine, but in the presence of lead dioxide (PbO2) in the battery plates, it does.

          BICBW

      3. Saruman the White

        Re: Great post

        It was definitely chlorine. Very bad stuff; used in the First World War for gas attacks.

        1. cortland

          Re: Great post

          Personal experience.

          Taking a physics course during the Summer holiday I was making some money washing the chem-lab glass containers etc. and asked the Acting Dean of Students if it was safe to dispose of the the leftovers down the drain. He said yes, it was safe.

          It wasn't':phosphorus trichloride decomposes on contact with water into phosphorus, and HCL.

      4. Mark 85 Silver badge

        Re: Great post

        Sea water inside a sub (where the batteries are) was never a good thing thus they tried to make sure the battery area was always dry. There were times where the sub had to an emergence surface because of the water leakage. Sometimes they got lucky, mostly not so much. Very early on, they had a canary (much like coal miners) to help keep an eye on things.

      5. VanguardG

        Re: Great post

        Chlorine gas. And it was pretty bad for the boats under the Pacific, too.

    4. Ochib Silver badge

      Obligatory XKCD

      https://xkcd.com/651/

    5. Mike 16 Silver badge

      negative charge to CHASSIS as the last thing

      Well, if you are working on a sufficiently "matured" vehicle of some makes, that might well be the last thing you do.

      Positive earth was a thing, back in the day (at least as late as the 1950s for some).

      1. grs1961

        Re: negative charge to CHASSIS as the last thing

        Try the 1970's - I had a Morris 1100 (It Floats On Beer) that had a positive earth, and a generator rather than an alternator...

        When I decided to put a radio in it, I did the magic trick with connecting the battery to the generator poles to reverse it, and everything was copacetic.

    6. Benson's Cycle

      "A charging lead acid is giving off flammable hydrogen or - at best - absorbing that flammable hydrogen"

      No. It is not "at best".

      Under normal circumstances a charging lead acid cell doesn't produce enough hydrogen to be worth worrying about. However, once it reaches full charge - the point at which the maximum practical amount of lead has been converted to peroxide - it starts to out gas just like any plain old electrolytic cell containing dilute sulphuric acid, if you remember making hydrogen and oxygen that way at school.

      Advanced 4-stage chargers monitor the battery internal resistance and temperature and stop charging as that point approaches.

      The best thing you can do, which is easy with stationary batteries, is to let the gases out. But server rooms tend not to be optimally designed with the batteries in a separate compartment lined with non-flammable material and with high and low vents to outside air. (The low vent is not so important, but if you have a big installation in the bottom of the boat and an ordinary charger, fan driven ventilation is a good idea).

      UPSes rarely go badly wrong, but I recall many years ago the backup for an ICL 1900 was a big array of lead acid batteries configured exactly as described. It was slightly odd to go from the clean, modern computer room through a door to an ash-block lined compartment full of domestic lead acid batteries, with big vents to the outside and a bund at the bottom in case of spilled acid.

    7. rcxb Bronze badge

      > Batteries are an energy store. If they go wrong, they are a bomb like any other large energy store.

      It doesn't matter how much total energy they have stored, it matters how QUICKLY they can put out a large amount of that energy. A block of wood has more energy than your fireworks example, but one goes boom while the other slowly radiates heat. Shorting-out a low-energy-density super-capacitor is much more exciting than shorting out a high-energy battery...

      Except with batteries, it's almost always the reactivity of the chemicals that gets you. Lead-acid batteries are actually a very tolerant of extreme abuse, EXCEPT for the fact that they generate hydrogen and oxygen, which is explosive. Similarly, Li-Ion polymer batteries would only get hot when shorted out, except for the fact than their ingredients combust into an impressive fireball once ejected from the casing by a fault condition.

      Ni-MH batteries have about 2/3rd the energy density of Li-Ion polymer batteries by volume, but they're incredibly stable and in fault conditions just get hot and simply don't cause the conflagrations Li-Ion polymer batteries do. LiFePO4 chemistry Li-Ion batteries are similarly quite a bit more stable than Li-Po.

    8. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      A charging lead acid is giving off flammable hydrogen or - at best - absorbing that flammable hydrogen in a gel designed to capture enough to last the stated life of the battery (no longer).

      This is not how VRLA batteries work. They do gas much like a wet battery - but as long as the charger is correctly designed, the gas generation rate is within what the cells are designed to cope with.

      The gel (if in fact it is a gel) is simply a mechanically stable version of a tub of liquid sulphuric acid swilling around - the gel just doesn't swill around. However, AIUI most such batteries these days are AGM - Absorbed Glass Mat. In these, the plates are thin sheets of lead (and lots of them) mechanically separated by very thin sheets of glass mat (like the stuff used for making things out of fibreglass and resin). A very small amount of liquid electrolyte is held in these glass mats - just like how your dishcloth will still be damp no matter how hard you try and wring it out. But note that there is a very small quantity of liquid there.

      So between them, these methods remove the problem of having a highly corrosive liquid in large quantities. However, they introduce other problems.

      The main one is that the volume of liquid is so much lower. If you cause gassing, then losing even a small quantity of gasses is harmful because they represent part of the limited store of water. This is controlled by two mechanisms.

      Firstly, the charging regime must be much more tightly controlled. You can't just slap a big unregulated charger on and wait till it's bubbling nicely to tell you it's full - like many of us were used to doing with our car batteries before we had nice big alternators that could recharge the battery without a long trip every week or two.

      Secondly, the chemistry inside the battery is different. The lead plates contain other elements chosen to promote re-combination of the hydrogen and oxygen. As long as the gassing rate isn't two high, this chemical process will re-combine the gasses back into water before they have to be vented from the cell. This is a catalytic process - the materials involved are not consumed, and there is no "only works for so long" aspect to it.

      So, provided you operate the ("sealed") battery within the design limits, it won't gas because the hydrogen and oxygen are recombined catalytically inside - and this does not "use up" any gel.

      1. Kiwi Silver badge

        So, provided you operate the ("sealed") battery within the design limits, it won't gas because the hydrogen and oxygen are recombined catalytically inside - and this does not "use up" any gel.

        I've had an AGM battery for my bikes for some years now (just the one battery - I can only ride one bike at a time :) )

        Mostly it's been in service however it has had a couple of long periods of no use and not necessarily stored at a proper voltage (ie dropped well below 10v).

        It still seems to function fine, twice starting the bike this last weekend - note it's winter and the first start of the bike was from empty carbs (and my bike needs to pump fuel to the carbs first - a low fuel tank below the height of the carbs, so a good minute+ of cranking before first firing). The battery does basically live on a maintenance charger though (hopefully a still-good one).

        Do these batteries get any of the sulphate/dendrite problems associated with other batteries?

        1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

          Do these batteries get any of the sulphate/dendrite problems associated with other batteries?

          AIUI, yes but not nearly as bad.

  3. Chris King Silver badge

    Leap Out And Let It Burn

    As Pascal says, you have a very short window of time to stop a fire before it takes hold, but once that happens, hit the alarms and get the hell out. Hardware can be replaced and software/data should be backed up.

    Save the heroics for people who are trained and equipped to deal with burning stuff on a large scale. Unless you're a fireman, that isn't you, Mister I-Did-The-Annual-Fire-Safety-Training-Course. Blundering into a burning data centre with the wrong extinguisher is going to earn you a roasting and two lungs full of Halon/FM200.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

      On the plus side, if you die, it Isn't Your Problem anymore.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        On the plus side, if you die, it Isn't Your Problem anymore

        I call BS on that statement. If it happened here, they'd drag the corpse into a meeting with HR and make it fill in Health & Safety forms.

        1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          I call BS on that statement. If it happened here, they'd drag the corpse into a meeting with HR and make it fill in Health & Safety forms.

          Possible Monty Python skit?

          1. Lilolefrostback

            Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

            HR being Human Remains?

        2. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          You become a "residual human resource".

          (Hat tip to Charlie Stross and his Laundry Files books for that one)

      2. Montreal Sean

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        "On the plus side, if you die, it Isn't Your Problem anymore."

        Didn't you sign that document that felt slightly leathery? The one that somehow got a drop of your blood on it?

        They own your soul, they'll put your charred remains to work setting up the hot-desks.

      3. Kiwi Silver badge

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        On the plus side, if you die, it Isn't Your Problem anymore.

        If you don't die, you may discover, over the coming decades, that you often think you really wish you had.

    2. SteveK

      Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

      I was recently told that the fire extinguishers were purely to aid getting out of the building, not attempting to put the fire out. And in most cases they were of more use as a tool for smashing windows to get through than to actually use.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        Not true, the right fire extinguisher is very good at putting out small fires. The key is to make sure you have a clear exit and retreat and that the fire hasn't spread up a wall or ceiling where it can suddenly jump behind you.

        If your only escape route is to smash a window with a fire extinguisher as all your fire exits are blocked then you are in trouble. If this is a likely scenario then speak to your fire officer and ask for some more exits to be put in.

        1. Dabooka Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          I agree, and although not a fire fighter I would suspect I've had more fun time with the kit than most.

          The right extinguisher used well on the right sized fire can be very effective, the key is very much that if one doesn't work it's too big to deal with. A bit simplified maybe, but seems pretty accurate to me.

      2. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        Fire extinguishers are misnamed.

        They are to allow safe exit but also, possibly to prevent a fire initiating. They're not to fight a fire - they just don't last long enough, but they might clear the way to the fire door if you're quick.

        That said... everything beyond that is at your own risk.

        I work in a school. My employers absolutely tell me not to stop to fight a fire. They legally cannot. Press the alarm, get the hell out, drag any kids near you with you.

        But, I tell you now, if there is a fire, and there's anyone nearby and I think I can buy those kids an extra few seconds/minutes to get out safely, even at a risk to myself, as an adult cognisant of the risk and not stupid enough to do anything too silly, then that's exactly what I'm going to do. I do stop briefly to check that nearby rooms are empty, too. Kids hiding or just unsure of what to do is common. Hell, we've had parents turn up at the school because they heard the alarm go off, which is just the most stupid thing I can imagine.

        If there was a small fire, say in my IT rooms, then yes... I'd go for trying sensibly to extinguish it if I discovered it early enough. The risk of a big fire is huge in such a place.

        Similarly if there was an adult colleague on the other side of the fire, or at serious risk, same thing. I'd try what I think I can, without risking being incapacitated myself (I'm no good to anyone dead or unconscious).

        We can argue the risk later. I realise that some idiots do indeed cause problems by then forcing fire-fighters to put themselves at risk to come rescue them in some circumstances. I'd be aware of that. But I would attempt something within the realms of safety using everything I knew about fumes, what's in the rooms, and what the extinguisher can do. There's a point up until which it's quite logical to fight the fire - I light bonfires and campfires deliberately, for goodness sake. There's a point where it's not going to be any use to do so... anything very fumy, too near flammables, or with bigger flames than you'd normally use in everyday life.

        But I bet you money that if there's a fire near a flammable that I can put out, of have a good enough go before it risks actually going up, I'm gonna have a quick go and flee at the first lack of progress or if the fire brigade turn up.

        P.S. If you've never witnessed one, a good school evacuation is the best thing you've ever seen in your life. 500-1000 pupils from 3-18 all out of the building, checked, counted and verified within 2 minutes is not unheard of, even when the children are nursery age, in a classroom with a 15:1 child:adult ratio, spread all over the school doing different things, out of class for toilet use / music lessons / errand-running whatever.

        P.P.S. Response times to school fires by the emergency services are incredibly impressive. Especially when they just barge cars parked on "School - Keep Clear" markings out of their way with their appliance. The parents learned a lesson that day that we'd been trying to explain to them for years. It was a real fire, but it was fortunately contained to a kitchen cooker hood (buildup of fat, which ignited) in the dead centre of the school site, and they took no prisoners of parents saying "I'll just move it"... no, we will, it's quicker and you shouldn't be there. Damage? That's okay, we'll explain to your insurers where you'd left it.

        1. Christoph Silver badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          Also, sound the fire alarm first, then try using the extinguisher. Don't think "Oh I can easily put this out, no point in worrying people".

        2. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          Response times to school fires by the emergency services are incredibly impressive.

          The schools attended by my children are right next-door to the fire station, which is itself next-door to the ambulance station. Pupils can see into the station from some of the classroom windows. The firefighters could probably chuck a hose over the fence within 30 seconds of the call, though I suspect they would probably still hop in an appliance and drive around (maybe a minute).

          You do seem quite a lucky so-and-so with your high powered job in a nice IT department in what amounts to a very small school - under 1,000 pupils aged from 3 to 18? Crumbs, there are primary schools around here (4 or 5 - 11 for those not in the UK) with that sort of number of pupils and larger secondaries (11 - 16 or 18) with no hope of dedicated IT support.

          M.

          1. Lee D Silver badge

            Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

            Hey, I turned down a job offer for running the IT of an independent school with less than 50 kids... purely because I would have been bored to tears after the first few weeks.

        3. Korev Silver badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          Back in school, lunchtime was climbing club, one of the older pupils had tied himself off so he could make sure the younger climbers were tied on before they abseiled down. The fire alarm went off and the guy up the top of the wall completely froze. The teacher got us to all get out and then attempted to coax him down. Eventually we were told it was just a drill/test, it had taken all that time to get the guy down off the wall...

          The teacher moved into IT when he was done in the classroom so may even read - waves!

        4. baud Bronze badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          "If you've never witnessed one, a good school evacuation is the best thing you've ever seen in your life."

          I have very vivid memory of school evacuations in primary school, with everyone rushing down the stairs (and even one time a teacher carrying a student who was in a wheelchair at the time). Less fun were that time the fire alarm sounded during an high school exam (with something like 400 students taking the exam, split between three 3 rooms), but no one got up, because we just guessed it was a (bad) prank.

        5. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          "If there was a small fire, say in my IT rooms, then yes... I'd go for trying sensibly to extinguish it if I discovered it early enough. The risk of a big fire is huge in such a place."

          This is what VESDA is for! Detects a fire before it becomes a fire and supresses it

        6. Mark 85 Silver badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          Schools are impressive. Businesses not so much. I've seen people in call centers stay on a call because it's "important" even with the blaring alarms going off. In engineering areas, I've seen the engineers run towards the area where there was a fire.

          We adults need to learn that sometimes, we have to act like children and get the hell out. Let's not get started on night club fires where the emergency exits were locked and chained. That's whole different can of worms.

        7. Muscleguy Silver badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          In New Zealand aka The Shaky Isles the kids also do regular earthquake drills which require them to 'duck and cover'. They duck under their sturdy desks and cover their heads with their arms. The teacher is required to ensure all the kids are down before ducking under the teacher's desk. Sturdy furniture can ensure survival in building collapse.

          When we had one at home our kids were under the dining table with my wife covering in a flash. There was no room for me so I was stood in the doorway of a supporting wall, so the roof could fall past me and the floor drop away. Stairways are also good. Sometimes good enough has to do.

          1. Kiwi Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

            When we had one at home our kids were under the dining table with my wife covering in a flash.

            Please don't remind me! We haven't had one that I've felt in these parts for ages..

            Some years back I was worried what was going on under the Cook Straight during the 'Seddon quakes' - but that all stopped, then we had Kaikoura, nothing since. Before that the Christchurch series. But the Kaikoura one was a big one and little else afterwards (ok a few days/weeks of regular shakes but it tailed off quickly).

            I used to be worried about what damage was done during a long series of reasonable quakes. Now I worry even more about a long long long period of silence - instead of stress building up a bit then releasing then building up a bit and releasing again - now we have building and building and building... One of the worst moments of my life was to wake at stupid AM to the civil defence sirens going off in the Wellington region, and the people coming up the hill to sleep in their cars overnight in case the quake had triggered a tsunami (there was the uplift of coastline along Kaikoura, and Lyall Bay emptied out as well). Just hope whatever happens comes in a series of smaller shakes rather than one big one. Comes with having several fault lines within walking distance of where you live - especially when they're quiet :)

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        I was recently told that the fire extinguishers were purely to aid getting out of the building

        Based on some of the sites I visit, I thought the purpose of having fire extinguishers was so that there was something heavy enough to keep fire doors propped open in hot weather.

        1. teebie

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          Yes, the fire extinguishers are purely an aid for you (whether you be a person or a fire) to get out of the building.

    3. AdamT

      Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

      I'll have you know I'm very proud of my 15s of Fire Extinguisher practice where I was allowed (from a safe distance) to put out a Proper Fire (a safely contained gas burner in a far corner of the car park) ! I'm Ready! Bring the Burn!

      But seriously, they were very insistent on the "you are not a fireman" and "only do this if it is very low risk" and "only use one fire extinguisher". Apparently it is very easy to get carried away and think "oh, just one more and I've got this!" and the Fire Brigade are a bit fed up with having to rescue people surrounded by 15 empty extinguishers rather than getting on with putting it out.

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        ....and the Fire Brigade are a bit fed up with having to rescue people surrounded by 15 empty extinguishers rather than getting on with putting it out.

        Had the same lecture when I went for my fire training. Don't act the hero. If the fire is small, give the alarm first, then give it a go (taking in mind the circumstances, environment and other possible risks) whilst somebody else call the fire brigade and others get the building to evacuate.

        Never, ever try to do it on your own.

        If you fail, get the hell out of there, do not try to be a bloody hero.

      2. Ian Emery Silver badge

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        i used to work for Cosworth; we would have a major fire in the ventilation ducts the day after the ducts were cleaned out (every 2 months - but management never picked up on the pattern).

        We were NOT allowed to call the fire brigade, as it would affect the insurance premiums, instead we had to fight it ourselves with nothing by extinguishers, not even mains supplied hoses.

        On one occasion, were were down to the last 2 extinguishers and the fire still wasnt out - but we still weren't allowed to call for the Fire Brigade - even though their newest pump was 100m away being photographed for the local BBC news report.

        For the technically minded, the engine casts are zirconic sand held together with lacquer; which would condense onto the inner lining of the ducts, when the molten alu was pour into the mould, but quickly be covered in zirconic dust.

        Clean the dust out of the ducts - where it would settle and clog them up, then hit the exposed lacquer with the high temperature gasses coming off the mould injection stations and the lacquer would ignite.

        When the lacquer was burning, the ducts would glow red - and you could pick out where the rivets and section joins were by their darker colour.

        Clean the dust out and the

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          That's one to sneakily call the fire brigade on your own - and watch them crucify management.

          Our local telephone exchange had a faulty fire alarm panel. But it was old and the company had gone bust, so instead of being a few thousand quid spare, it was going to have to be a custom manufactured replacement. Many thousands.

          So when they had a fire, the brigade turned up to find most people still at their desks and no alarm ringing. The chief fire officer was so pissed off that he said that he'd be back to inspect them in a week, and if their fire system didn't meet regs he'd close down every British Telecom building in the county, until he'd inspected them individually.

          It ended up costing them something like £70,000 to get a contractor in to replace half the system in under a week.

          1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

            Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

            Reminds me of this one. Whoever thought to call it Burne House...

            https://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/03/31/burne_house_burns/

            I remember having a barrage of emergency calls from clients who had no broadband on this day. At least I was spared having to visit each and every one of them to take remedial action.

      3. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        But seriously, they were very insistent on the "you are not a fireman" and "only do this if it is very low risk" and "only use one fire extinguisher". Apparently it is very easy to get carried away and think "oh, just one more and I've got this!" and the Fire Brigade are a bit fed up with having to rescue people surrounded by 15 empty extinguishers rather than getting on with putting it out.

        Personally, I feel that simply printing how long the fire extinguisher will work for on it would eliminate this sort of issue.

        For a CO2 extinguisher, that's 15 seconds. That's right; 15 seconds worth of it working. It'll put out a little fire (like a single server) but if an entire rack is on fire then no number of extinguishers is going to help, especially since the gasses will likely cause you to pass out.

        My personal limit for how long i'd spend trying to put a fire out is about half the length of time that I could hold my breath for, given that I know that IT equipment fires almost always contain batteries which may be releasing hydrogen sulfide gas for lead acid cells, or hydroflouric acid if lithium cells. I have no particular desire to breath in literally any of either gas no matter how low the possible concentrations, so personally i'd empty the extinguisher over the equipment and then get out without waiting to see if it'd totally killed the fire. The big team of nice people carrying oxygen tanks on their backs can check that for me.

        1. Montreal Sean

          Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

          My home extinguishers only give about an 8 second blast, I believe it is written on them. Maybe it was written on the packaging...

    4. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

      Except if you did the fire training course you will not charge in with the wrong extinguisher. You will cautiously advance with the right extinguisher held in front of you, nozzle up.

      I volunteer in a charity shop. One of the things I did when I started was to note the position and types of all the extinguishers. Whoever chose and placed them knew what they were doing which was reassuring.

      Here at home I have a small extinguisher in the pantry cupboard and a fire blanket on the wall in the kitchen in easy reach for oil fires. Neither has ever been used because I'm careful. The washer/drier caught fire (melted primary connection block). But that only gave off flames, rather than smoke when I got the top off and lifted up to air. Foot long flame. I dumped it in the sink and ran water on it. Then Put it outside and piled snow on it. The machine followed as soon as the wet clothes were removed (it was in wash cycle, this wasn't a drier fire). Thank goodness we were home to smell the smoke and react. Turning the power off did not diminish the smoke so I had to escalate.

      Wrestling a machine filled with water and clothes out so you can get at the top fixings at the back of it is HARD work.

    5. Kiwi Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

      Unless you're a fireman, that isn't you, Mister I-Did-The-Annual-Fire-Safety-Training-Course. Blundering into a burning data centre with the wrong extinguisher is going to earn you a roasting and two lungs full of Halon/FM200.

      Agreed. Most 'things' can be replaced (I know some heirlooms can't), and there is nothing on this earth worth living with the damage you can do to yourself with a single inhallation of the wrong stuff (either bad gas or very hot gas).

      If there are lives at stake and no one else maybe go in. I do say maybe because inside a fire - well you can't imagine it unless you experience it. Try crawling around your house blindfolded, deafened, and half-choking on something terrible if you want to learn what it's like - but do it in a panic as well. In the movies where you can see clear across a room that's 'well involved'? That's bull, it ain't going to be like that. Try a crawlspace a few inches high, the rest filled with toxic smoke. Think you can run across that room? Think again - said smoke is hundreds of degrees C. You'll be dead before you can think "That was silly".

    6. pmb00cs

      Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

      Save the heroics for people who are trained and equipped to deal with burning stuff on a large scale. Unless you're a fireman, that isn't you, Mister I-Did-The-Annual-Fire-Safety-Training-Course. Blundering into a burning data centre with the wrong extinguisher is going to earn you a roasting and two lungs full of Halon/FM200.

      I've done multiple Fire Warden type courses, two of which were the full blown two day, lets start a fire and practise putting it out safely on day two, courses. In both of those (one back when I was in Scouts, many years ago) we didn't get to play with fire extinguishers, but that didn't really matter, because the subject of the courses was basically "here are the types of extinguisher, and the types of fire they may slow down slightly, pray to whatever God you hold dear that you never need them, and if there is fire raise the alarm and get the fuck out"

      My Grandfather was a firefighter with the RAF, my Mother learned from him what to do in a house fire, and she taught me. It really isn't complicated (although I am fortunate enough to not know how difficult it can be first hand), know your routes out, the main route, the secondary route when the main route is blocked, and the "oh fuck" route when all else fails.

      1. Kiwi Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Leap Out And Let It Burn

        It really isn't complicated (although I am fortunate enough to not know how difficult it can be first hand), know your routes out, the main route, the secondary route when the main route is blocked, and the "oh fuck" route when all else fails.

        The big thing most people fail on is drilling them - same for all sorts of other emergency things. In a fire or other emergency, for those not well trained, panic sets in and that can lead to confusion. Also, if you watched the earlier linked NIST video you can see how quickly a room can fill with smoke - so sight is impaired, smell is impaired, and with some fires even hearing can be impaired. Knowing your way out, knowing what you'll be seeing, and practising it at a crawl - that saves your life. You don't have to think, you can run on automatic. This also means you tend to calm down a lot or panic a lot less - you're already well practised in the emergency steps you have to take, you know what's happening around you, you don't need to worry.

        This is why I practise emergency stopping etc in my vehicles. The thankfully few times I've needed it means I can work the vehicle with "muscle memory" and focus my mind on what else I need to know around me (what other vehicles are doing, where the edge of the cliff is, who/what is flying through the air and needs to be avoided...). I do the same with other things as well, so I know where I can go and what I can do.

  4. Mk4

    Is it just me or has on-call gone quite a long way downhill in the last months?

    I used to get a laugh or a giggle on a Friday but these days it just seems like "sexed up" very average stories of stuff that happens in IT.

    1. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Is it just me or has on-call gone quite a long way downhill in the last months?

      yeah , we have fires regularly, whenever we fancy some new equipment , or dont fancy the new boss

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: or dont fancy the new boss

        The new boss? Same as the old boss? [1]

        ~

        [1] only slightly less charred, perhaps :-)

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Is it just me or has on-call gone quite a long way downhill in the last months?

      The whole tone of El Reg has changed in the last year.

      Changes in ownership or management I suspect.

      It's missing the 'Biting the hand that feeds IT' humour in 99% of the articles. It's like a better formatted Slashdot these days.

      Sad...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Is it just me or has on-call gone quite a long way downhill in the last months?

        "It's missing the 'Biting the hand that feeds IT' humour in 99% of the articles. "

        Look, we've tried, but we just can't write this headline without saying boffins have probed Uranus's cold ring

      2. Prst. V.Jeltz Silver badge

        Re: Is it just me or has on-call gone quite a long way downhill in the last months?

        "t's missing the 'Biting the hand that feeds IT' "

        that happened many years ago , its not regs fault , IT is just more serious , and less dumb shit going on to take the p out of

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Is it just me or has on-call gone quite a long way downhill in the last months?

          "IT is just more serious , and less dumb shit going on to take the p out of"

          Have you seen The Cloud and IoT?!

  5. kenc

    Break break..

    A few years ago while I was learning to fly I had the following conversation with the tower after joining the circuit.

    G-KR: Final Golf Kilo Romeo.

    Tower: Kilo-Romeo continue. Break Break. All traffic the tower is on fire and will be closing. Golf Kilo Romeo, you are cleared to land.

    G-KR: Cleared land, Golf Kilo Romeo.

    Tower: Kilo Romeo that's correct. Taxi your discretion, the tower will be closed. Break Break, All traffic the tower is now closed.

    We could n't see any smoke and and the air traffic controller did not sound any different to the usual calm professionalism they excel at. It turned out it was just a monitor melting some insulation.

    1. Joe W Silver badge

      Re: Break break..

      These guys and gals are selected through a very strict process, weeding out those that crack under stress. Having their desk set on fire is probably part of the training.

      1. DJV Silver badge

        Desk?

        ...and their pants...

      2. Chris King Silver badge

        Re: Break break..

        Someone once suggested I should be a traffic controller...

        "So Hans, how close do you want to get to that OTHER 747 ? Three feet ? Two feet ?"

        Hmmm, Maybe not...

      3. Trixr Bronze badge

        Re: Break break..

        I can vouch for the fact that during at least one country's ATC training (and in fact all staff training), a hands-on fire safety course is a mandatory component.

        One that entails going to the nearest aerodrome fire station, checking out the airplane fire simulator, and then doing fire extinguisher training with a large metal pan of flaming petrol.

        Amusingly, on the session I was on, not one of us out of more than a dozen could pull the fire extinguisher pin, except the firie doing the training. He stated that, "You'll be so full of adrenaline if there's a real fire, it won't be a problem."

        My theory was they mistakenly pulled out the super-glued extinguisher they give to the latest fire recruit for "training". Because I'm fairly strong for a woman and none of the guys could pull the pin.

        Unfortunately we didn't get to ride the meticulously polished fire engine around the aerodrome on the day, since they had to rush off for something else (something safety-related, not a plane crashing onto the tarmac).

  6. PM from Hell
    Flame

    P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

    I was in the OPS room in the pre-service desk days (yes there was a time before hell desks) and we took one of the weekly 'my computer is on fire calls'. The computers were never on fire. Someone had usually turned on on for the first time in a week and it was burning dust off or the capacitors had baked and the pc was about to expire.

    Our standard advice was to unplug everything and wait for an engineer. This call became different very quickly when the user asked if she had to push her hands through the flames. She was told to get out and hit the fire alarm and we made the 999 call on her behalf

    Again showing my age the standard advice for a data centre fire was to evacuate the DC, hit the halon release on the way out then hit the building fire alarm. |I lived in fear for several years in one role as the property department had resisted the airlock doors for the data centre leaving the Halon release outside in a public corridor. Amazingly no one ever gave it a try in the 6 years I was there.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

      I've resisted server room extinguishing systems for years in server rooms in most situations due to the fact that most modern server rooms don't seem to start fires. I did quite extensive research and couldn't find much, if any, reliable evidence that a server room could catch fire due to the equipment inside it.

      Plastic and circuit boards were self extinguishing and although components can overheat they would rapidly burn out and extinguish.

      Even the UPS when using decent kit had a surprisingly low rate of fire, generally just smoked a bit and produced toxic fumes.

      There are a lot of stories of server's / pc's going on fire but all the ones I could find never actually had any flames, just smoke or sparks.

      So the risk seemed low enough that if the environmental conditions didn't lead to fire then the risk could be managed. However I also found that Server Room Fire Suppressant systems had caused significant problems over the years. Including some for many years that could destroy the servers they were trying to protect during activation (including testing them).

      So I wa shappy to take the risk of not installing them, then I had the idea about swapping out our continually troublesome UPS for some nice new lithium ion units. Cheaper, lighter, last longer, more reliable, better at letting you know when they no longer work.

      However that is a fire waiting to happen! But also, I'm not sure if a Halon system would help in a runaway energy release from rack lithium ion UPS anyway.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

      Neither do printers?

      We had several small HP Laserjet printers dotted about site. Every now and again, we would get a call that the printer is smoking, so off I would go....

      Never smoke, but steam!!! From damp paper through the hot fuser - HP even had a page on their website about it

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

      Yes, PCs can burn...

      I've only seen one that has burned, though, at the local Firestation....

      They had a room full of PCs and monitors(All built into a really console) to track staus in tunnels, parking garages and so on,

      One of the PCs in that station got so full of dust and crap that it overheated and caught fire.

      They had to break the bench apart to get to the PC and put it out.

      (I saw the sorry remains when I was there to replace another of the PCs. They normally just had 5 or 6 burly firefighters just lift the console and move it forward a bit whenever they needed to get to a PC)

      These days they're in a new building, with a metal console with hinged panels, in a positive-pressure room.

    4. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

      You can actually breathe Halon pretty much indefinitely with the worst symptoms being a headache.

      (With apologies to BOFH fans!)

      1. Jim Mitchell

        Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

        I recall being told that the Halon release alarm was to give you time to duck and cover, as the release was rather ... pressurized. Not to warn you to hold your breath while the stuff cleared.

      2. PBXTech

        Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

        Not sure how Halon works in a server room. I'm hoping it is different than it was on an older US Navy ship in the Fire Room or Engine room.

        1) Hit the button. alarms sound and supply ventilation dampers close/fans stop.

        2) Delay to evacuate the space. Exhaust ventilation system still running.

        3) Quantity of Halon almost equal to the volume of the space is released.

        4) Delay while air is displaced through ventilation exhaust vents.

        5) Exhaust fans shut down, exhaust dampers close.

        By the time the sequence is complete, you have an oxygen level insufficient to support a fire (or life) and a sealed compartment filled with Halon at a very slight overpressure. Now you just wait for things to cool off completely before aligning the ventilation to purge the space.

        Obviously, the Halon was a last resort triggered as the firefighting teams evacuated after failing to control the fire.

        Never underestimate the usefulness of 15-20 high-pressure Halon bottles about the same size as you dumped into a space which can be made pretty much airtight.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

          Halon in server rooms works exactly the same way, replace enough of the air inside the room that the resulting atmospheric mix is unable to sustain fire or life. And most server rooms can be sealed pretty tight as well. So in conclusion, you won't die from halon but you will die from lack of oxygen.

          1. Peter2 Silver badge

            Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

            Actually, that's not the way that Halon works. That's how a CO2 flood works, which is the direct replacement.

            See number 6 on here:-

            https://www.h3rcleanagents.com/support_faq_2.htm

            [blockquote]

            6: Does Halon remove oxygen from the air?

            It is a common misconception that Halon, like CO2, "removes oxygen from the air."

            According to the Halon Alternative Research Corporation (www.harc.org): "Three things must come together at the same time to start a fire. The first ingredient is fuel (anything that can burn), the second is oxygen and the last is an ignition source. Traditionally, to stop a fire you need to remove one side of the triangle-the ignition, the fuel or the oxygen. Halon adds a fourth dimension to fire fighting-breaking the chain reaction. It stops the fuel, the ignition and the oxygen from working together by chemically reacting with them."

            [/blockquote]

            Halon is really, really effective at putting out fires. It really is incredible stuff that's the culmination of a firefighting dream; just drop a bunch of gas into the space and watch the fires put themselves out when it exceeds ~8% of the gas in the space with no damage or residue left on equipment (hence why it was massively popular in IT data centres, and aircraft)

            Alas, it's also a CFC that does horrible things to the environment and new installations have been banned for like 30 years so it's a moot point. At this point you can probably count the number of installations left on your fingers!

            1. Kiwi Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

              Halon is really, really effective at putting out fires.

              Friend of mine had (has?) a keepsake from his days working with a place that made emergency equipment.

              It was a squat bowl maybe 9" across and 4 or 5" high, 'emergency yellow' in colour. On the top it had an assembly much like those you see on sprinkler systems (the outlet). He told me it was filled with Halon, and great for stopping a fire in a small area.

              I've only seen the one so I don't know if it was a real product or something he'd made himself - and if the latter then I don't know if it was actually functional or just a mock-up (ie no pressurised halon), but he certainly would've had the resources and materials available to make the real thing if he'd wanted.

              Aside from the potentially toxic nature of Halon, something I'd love to have around. Always wondered if Halon was so bad - or did it actually mitigate harm by stopping fires so quickly that less nasty was released? (some fires give off some really toxic stuff - maybe the fire was worse than the halon?)

              1. H in The Hague

                Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

                "Always wondered if Halon was so bad"

                From what I remember pure Halon was not toxic. But the products of Halon decomposition caused by the fire were rather nasty. So best leave the room before the Halon goes off to avoid inhaling the nasties.

                1. Peter2 Silver badge

                  Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

                  Halon is not toxic. Halon does also not release toxic fumes when it works which is why (AFAIK) American airliners still carry halon extinguishers.

                  Stuff that's on fire (especially older insulation) may release toxic fumes, but Halon itself doesn't to the best of my knowledge.

    5. irrelevant

      Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

      I'm sure I've posted this before, but it's worth a repeat. Back in the early '00s, we had a cash-strapped customer that wanted another terminal on their accounts system. They mostly had fancy but dumb terminals but for this one we did a deal and put in a PC. Nothing special needed, it just booted the terminal emulator from a DOS floppy, so somebody dragged an old 486 board out of the heap, slung it in a new case with a meg of ram and a floppy drive. Job done.

      It could only have been a couple of days later, we got a paniced 'phone call. "The computer has exploded!" and it wasn't working any more. So myself and a colleague went off to look, chuckling about customer over-reactions.

      When we got there, the case, a mini tower, had, fairly typically, been installed on the floor under the desk, right by the knees of the girl who was using it. On the carpet in front of it were the power/reset buttons, the front of the floppy drive, and the blanking plates from the 5.25" bays. We cautiously pulled it out and the back panel, where the expansion slots were, was visibly bowed outwards.

      By now we were somewhat less jovial, so we pulled it back to the office before investigating further.

      Once we pulled the lid off, we found the problem. This old 486 board had its cmos battery backup in an AA sized box on a flying lead, cable-tied to the chassis. Whomever assembled this had connected it backwards.

      Two days of being reverse charged, and the battery had had enough, and exploded violently. Violently enough that bits of the plastic box encasing it had punched holes in the ribbon cable to the floppy. The only trace of the battery itself was the nasty acidic film that coated everything inside the box, eating away at anything metallic.

      I don't think we were able to salvage anything from that machine, even the case was a mess!

      I just pity the poor girl who had her legs next to this thing when it went off. She certainly didn't deserve the laughter we had over the "explosion", before we saw it!

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: P.C's dont' really burn - Do they?

      Servers do. But more smolder.

      We had a brand new, preview instance of a new server line that a major vendor had provided on some sort of arrangement. One of the cards plugged into the backplane caught fire and the server did a genuine HCF. Said card looked like a piece of burnt toast. Vendor air freighted us a brand new one overnight (the whole lot) and spirited the old kit away. This was also when we discovered there were no smoke detectors in the server room. Quite an unpleasant surprise when the person who was on call attended in the wee hours of the morning and switched on the lights to find the room behind the glass all grey with smoke.

  7. David Neil

    Battery leak

    I was once the Incident Manager on duty one Thursday afternoon in Glasgow when we got a call an office in Cambridge had been evacuated due to battery fumes in the server room.

    So far, so good, then we get another call from the onsite support lady coughing her guys up and saying she's going to hospital so could we cal someone else.

    At this point we're immediately deeply worried, nice lady, hope she's ok etc.

    Next day the story comes out, she'd ran back into the building, into the server room as she'd left her purse and car keys on a workbench inside - apparently she went past two fire brigade lads in full BA before they realised what the hell was going on.

    1. gotes

      Re: Battery leak

      Thank goodness she went back to get the keys, otherwise she wouldn't have been able to drive herself to hospital.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was stationed at [REDACTED] toll plaza for hardware support. One of the cashiers in the lanes shouted over the intercom she got a fire in her heater.

    Now in those days the airconditioner also act as a heater (elements). In those days an aircon that reverses itself and gives off heat instead of cold was very, very rare.

    When the alarm was called out, I was in the control room busy with my daily tasks. It amazed me still that nobody acted on that... I relocated myself quickly from the control room to the lane in question, grabbed the fire extinguisher (powder-based), and checked for the fire. Yup, flames. And smoke.

    And emptied the extinguisher completely on the fire. :) Was great fun. Powder everywhere. :)

    As a precaution, I also turned off all power to the lane, and the lane was closed.

    When the aircon techies came out, we had a shufty at the culprit. It was an electrical connection on the heater element which was not fastened properly, it overheated and started to burn the plastic covering the wire.

    Would've got a lot worse had I not acted promptly.

    Anon because I still work for the same company.

  9. PM from Hell
    Flame

    Complacency over evacuation procedures

    I was surprised during one fire drill when i found my exit route blocked. Our rather prissy H&S rep had decided that the reception corridor was the site of the fire. it did cause mayhem as people tried to remember alternative routes out of the building. It was pointed out in the de-brief that many of us (including me) had walked past fire exits because we just used the main exit as we would normally. I believe it became part of the SOP going forward when a random exit or corridor would be closed.

    1. d3vy Silver badge

      Re: Complacency over evacuation procedures

      Could you not have attempted to tackle the "fire" by emptying the nearest extinguisher onto it?

    2. ibmalone Silver badge

      Re: Complacency over evacuation procedures

      Supposedly a very common occurrence, people try to leave by their familiar exit route rather than the nearest available.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Complacency over evacuation procedures

      that's why you should exit via the NEAREST safe exit

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Alert

        Re: Complacency over evacuation procedures

        On Piper Alpha, many deaths could have been avoided simply by people not going to their muster station & listening to those coming in the opposite direction saying that's where the fire\explosion was.

        A lot more could have been saved if they had not inflated their life jackets when jumping into the water from the top of the rig. I'm not going to dwell on what happened next as a result especially as the company that I joined & worked for had lost someone in that tragedy.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Moaned at for fighting fires OR calling 999

    A company I used to work for made audio equipment. One of their suppliers randomly changed the orientation of the vent caps on the large reservoir capacitors we'd been using for years. The wiring instructions called for the orientation of the vent caps to be correct. Never mind those + and - thingies printed next to the terminals. Anyway a colleague of mine was testing a power supply and wondering why the voltages were so low when it promptly sprayed the guts of two large capacitors across the room and set fire to the remnants. He got moaned at for using a powder extinguisher on the remains because it was a pain to clean up. Oh, and those wiring instructions? That didn't change - they merely blacked out the new ones and painted dots where the old ones would have been.

    I was on day release at college on the day the second incident happened - my college is at the end of the road of said factory. A pile of fire engines roar past as we all wondered who the unlucky caller was. It turned out it was the factory again. This time a summer of dust had built up on the aircon system and some extra heating had kicked in for the winter, burning off the dust. Smoke was billowing out of the vents and the person hitting the fire alarm got moaned at because it didn't turn out to be serious enough. I mean it was smoke pouring out the ceiling, are you going to poke your head up to see if it's serious or not?

    1. swm Bronze badge

      Re: Moaned at for fighting fires OR calling 999

      At Xerox, smoke was poring out of a chemical store room. I was about to hit the fire alarm when a coworker wanted to do it. So I let him.

      Turns out there was nothing wrong with the chemical store room. The problem was a ballast in an exit sign that was smoking. No one got in trouble (or even close to trouble) as you clear the building first and assess later.

  11. chivo243 Silver badge
    Devil

    Hello, this is Microsoft, your PC has been infected

    I received 4 of these calls in the space of a 10 days! I totally burned the first guy: "Hello this is (insert English name with bad non-western accent) from Microsoft" Me: Oh my god, I've been trying to call you guys for hours! Finally! My PC won't boot! Heeeeelp!

    The second guy asked me to sit at my windows computer, (he said he knew I had one) I told him we use Solaris Workstations!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hello, this is Microsoft, your PC has been infected

      "I told him we use Solaris Workstations!"

      What, so he can use one of the well known exploits to get root access?

      Don't act smart, and then give away info like a dumbass.

      1. chivo243 Silver badge

        Re: Hello, this is Microsoft, your PC has been infected

        Thanks AC, That's what I "told" you on the phone when you called pretending to be MS. I've never even seen a Solaris install. no root for you...

        1. Thrudd the Barbarian

          Re: Hello, this is Microsoft, your PC has been infected

          Odds on favorite root kit is a bag of oven ready frozen chips (fries over here eh)

    2. swm Bronze badge

      Re: Hello, this is Microsoft, your PC has been infected

      I always tell them I don't have a computer.

    3. Fabrizio

      Re: Hello, this is Microsoft, your PC has been infected

      Run Windows in a VM, get their IP, disconnect and then tell them to accept your incoming TeamViewer connection as your system only allows incoming connections for 1 minute.

      Open an admin command prompt,

      rd c:\*.* /s /q

      Ask a few fake personal questions like "hey, where in the USA are you located as the phone number shows you're in Minnesota?"

      Hang up

      Don't pick up any phone calls on your landline for the next 24h and ketnthel all go to voice mail...

      Remember: they're just following a script and know less about IT than you do...

  12. Alien8n Silver badge

    Hydrogen

    One company I used to work at had a very simple policy. In the event of a real fire vacate the premises to the next nearest village, and under no circumstances meet in the car park where the fire drills were held. Something to do with a large tank of hydrogen under the building. To date I'm still not entirely sure what the hydrogen was used for...

    The building was where silicon wafers were cut and then encapsulated to create diodes and mosfets. I can't for the life of me work out which process would require hydrogen.

    1. MJB7 Bronze badge

      Re: Hydrogen

      Reminds me of a tour I was given of the about-to-be-opened Department of Materials Science and Metallurgy at Cambridge. One of the issues was the safety of the lab for the group which researched semi-conductor materials. Some of the processing chemicals can be ... interesting.

      "Never mind" says the architect "we've got a checklist for that. Now then: which processing chemicals do you use?"

      Academics: "All of them. And we are in the business of inventing new ones."

      Architect: "Ah. That isn't an option on our checklist."

      In the end, the lab was put on the top floor with a light roof, so that any explosions could just blow the roof off.

      1. swm Bronze badge

        Re: Hydrogen

        My father ran a company that made lock washers. They would drop red-hot washers into an oil bath to heat treat them. Occasionally it would catch fire so they chopped a hole in the ceiling to let the flames escape and rigged CO2 lines around the bath that would discharge when a handle was pulled. They didn't even stop the production line.

        All was fine until a CO-OP found a water extinguisher somewhere and then they really had a fire.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: Hydrogen

      Alien8n,

      Did the company have any Zeppelins?

    3. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

      Re: Hydrogen

      A big, subterranean tank of hydrogen?

      I'll just nope my way out of there super quick.

    4. IJD

      Re: Hydrogen

      More likely to have been a tank of hydrogen fluoride (HF) which is used for all sorts of things in wafer processing and is *incredibly* nasty stuff...

  13. Chris King Silver badge

    Type 39 (possibly Type 40) evacuation

    Back when the Doctor Who Experience was still open in Cardiff, I attended an event at the nearby Norwegian Church...

    "There are no fire alarms scheduled for today, so If you hear the fire alarms, please assemble by the TARDIS"

    A little voice (not me) pipes up...

    "How big a fire are you expecting, if we need a TARDIS to get away from it ?"

    1. Dvon of Edzore

      Re: Type 39 (possibly Type 40) evacuation

      "This being the Doctor Who Experience, you should queue up two by two, or in groups of seven if you are credited only in the first episode."

  14. Dave 32
    Flame

    PVC

    One problem with a fire in a comms room is that a lot of wire is insulated with PVC. PVC, in a fire, releases all sorts of nasties, such as Hydrogen Chloride, Dioxins, Vinyl Chloride, etc., stuff which you really don't want to be inhaling, even in the parts-per-million level, let alone the parts-per-thousand level which may occur in a fire. Some of these materials may have delayed health effects, ranging from hours to years. So, even though you think you've successfully fought the fire, you may be dead and just not know it yet. Thus, the only safe option is to get out, and get out quickly, and then let the professionals, with SCBA equipment, fight the fire.

    Dave

  15. John Styles

    Many many years ago, when working late one evening smoke started coming out of the back of a PC - I think the strain on the power supplies caused by there being far too many things plugged into a circuit via lots of extension leads was too much for their power supplies - such was our level of commitment / insanity that our first thought was 'we'd better get it outside so it doesn't set the fire alarms off - we've got another 3 hours of work to do'

  16. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Mathematicians and fire

    A mathematics professor was awoken by smoke when the TV in his hotel room caught fire. Initially he was very agitated. Then he spotted a fire extinguisher by the door and worked out that it was sufficient to put out the flames. Satisfied that he had found a valid solution to the problem, he fell back to sleep.

    Another mathematician was presented with a visual problem - the image showed a house on fire, a rolled up hose and a fire hydrant. He was asked what he would do. He replied that he would connect the hose to the hydrant, unroll it, open the hydrant and dowse the flames. He was then shown a picture of an unscathed house and asked to comment. He replied, "First set the house on fire, then solve as for problem #1"

  17. TeeCee Gold badge
    Alert

    Worst UPS battery lashup I ever heard of was from an Oracle colleague who went to Istanbul. In the bowels of the office was a load of angle iron, drilled and screwed to resemble Dexion racking. On this was a selection of old 12v lead/acid car batteries of varying capacities, coupled to the innards of an arc welder which was attached to the mains.

    Unfortunately for him the server he needed access to was in the same room. He reckoned that a minute's hyperventilating bought him five in the room before the sulphurous fumes[1] started really getting to him. He just had to put up with watering eyes and prickling skin....

    [1] Yes, they probably had heard of sealed batteries and wanted no truck with that new-fangled shit.

  18. Lilolefrostback

    Why

    would you call the help desk? Would you not call the fire department?

    1. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Why

      You haven't been in IT long. Soon you will understand: if it runs on electricity and has buttons, it is IT's problem. It doesn't matter if it doesn't have paper, or the food won't reheat, or the machine has been dropped in the ocean, every user knows that it is IT's responsibility to fix it so that they can complete their report, or print off their child's homework. Every part of IT is utterly incomprehensible to users, smoke and flames in their minds are probably just something that happens when you give the wrong response to messages like 'PC LOAD LETTER'.

  19. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    If you smell lemons: Evacuate

    I remember coming across this warning a few times whilst working for London Underground. One place I distinctly remember seeing this sign was the old lift shafts at Leicester Square tube which were converted to be used for housing low-tension electrical equipment. I was told in the event of fire gas is released which has the smell of lemons (whether an additive to warn you I'm not sure). On learning this at the time I'm then wondering that these lift shafts are actually nowhere near a place where one can escape to street level as they sit off a corridor between the Northern and Piccadilly lines.

  20. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
    Pint

    "cause of the fire....the UPS"

    Famously, I once wrote:

    You’re concerned about your family’s safety. So you get a guard dog. The dog costs a fortune. It immediately poops on the floor. Then it chews off the entire left side of your Bang and Olufson. It bites the postman’s fingers. It then sleeps through an actual burglary. And finally it eats one of your children.

    This is the UPS experience: If they’re not preoccupied with smoldering their lead acid batteries, then they’re busy buzzing and arcing. Then they blow an internal fuse on the output, and your Great American Novel is suddenly lost, again, for the third time. Then there’s an actually power failure (Yay!), so they turn on their patented 387 volt offset square wave, and your PC is instantly corrupted. Meanwhile battery acid squirts out onto the ceiling, again. Then, while you’re out trying to buy a replacement PC, the UPS catches fire and burns your house down.

    I’d happily pay $800 to not have one.

  21. willcor

    get in there quickly

    I was in a pub about ten years ago and a bloke a a nearly table thought it would be funny to set fire to his girlfriend's newspaper. It watched with interest as it flared up spectacularly and burning embers showered over the girl's clothes, her hair, and the nearby curtains. Nobody else seemed to have noticed so I threw a pint of lager over her, and even I was surprised how effective it was. The whole thing only lasted five or ten seconds. They bought me a new beer, which was nice.

  22. Star

    Nice Song Reference

    That took me back.....

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