Throw water on it

That’s a picture of an empty pit stall at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In a couple of weeks, at the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500, each of the 33 pits will have two of those five-gallon buckets filled with water to throw on a potential fire.

waterPit fires are relatively rare in racing these days, but they do happen. In the heat of competition, cars leave the pits with fuel hoses still attached; fuel gets spilled onto an exhaust, etc. Fire is always a concern and during the race, there will be plenty of firefighters in Nomex suits close at hand with the equipment to handle any contingency. However, what strikes me is that in the midst of this high-tech sport and modern firefighting, the first line of defense against fire is a 5-gallon bucket of water located in arm’s reach. No special training required.

I remember a scary incident a few years ago during a pit stop in which burning fuel ended up in the cockpit of one of the cars. Before the driver could even get unstrapped, the pit crew had that cockpit filled (and the driver covered) with water from those buckets. The fire was out and the whole thing over in literally seconds. The driver was uninjured and actually went on to finish the race, albeit very wet. What could have turned into something disastrous was averted by the simplest of technologies and actions.

To me, the lesson here applies to just about all safety equipment. The best safety measures are those that are the simplest. Vision and hearing protection, safety vests, hard hats, seat belts, and even pocket voltage detectors are all highly effective, but simple devices.

Secondly, safety is best executed by the people and equipment closest to the situation. The key to the situation above was having those buckets within reach of the pit crew. It’s been said before, but no matter how effective a safety device is, not having it close by or not using it is the same as not having it at all.

3 thoughts on “Throw water on it

  1. IndyCar uses ethanol fuel, and with it’s low flashpoint the teams keep the water in their pits.
    The safety crews will come around and use an extinguisher on any fire, but for the driver’s safety they use water.
    When methanol was used the fire wasn’t visible and many drivers got burned, some badly.

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