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HOW FLAME RETARDANTS WORK
Measures which prolong escape time, such as introducing fire safe furniture, ensure that fewer people are killed or injured in fires. Flame retardants are an effective element to protect people from fires. They can significantly delay ignition in the early stages of a fire when it can still be extinguished, or occupants of a building can escape.
Flame retardants can act in three different ways to stop the burning process and create such a delay. They may work to:
1. Disrupt the combustion stage of a fire cycle including avoiding or delaying [flashover," or the burst of flames that engulfs a room and makes it much more difficult to escape.
2. Limit the process of decomposition by physically insulating the available fuel sources from the material source with a fire-resisting [char" lay
3. Dilute the flammable gases and oxygen concentrations in the flame formation zone by emitting water, nitrogen or other inert gases.
A study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on smoke alarms demonstrated that nowadays people caught in a flaming fire in their home have only around 3 minutes to escape as opposed to the 17 minutes escape time reported in the same study in the 1970s. This is due to the increased presence of flammable materials in our homes today.