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Last edited 25 Sep 2020
Conceptually, it’s difficult to determine the first time someone used a heavy piece of fabric to manage or extinguish a fire. One of the earliest patents for a fire blanket was filed in 1911 by Ephriam Bishop of Kingston, New York, who presented an example of a piece of heavy, flexible material (more than likely wool or felt) which had been “properly treated to fireproof.” Bishop then specified the supports and containment system for the fire blanket, but did not go into details regarding the fireproof treatment process.
In 1953, Theodore Harry Diacos of Chicago, Illinois filed another patent that specified “non-combustible material, preferably of a fabric somewhat light in nature, for which purpose I prefer the modern fiberglass materials.” (Fiberglass is also known as glass wool or glass fibre.)
Early fire blankets may have included asbestos, although this material was not popular, due to its lightweight and fragile characteristics. Asbestos has since been phased out of modern fire blankets, but older ones should be decommissioned in accordance with modern regulations regarding hazardous waste. All asbestos containing materials and asbestos contaminated waste - including old fire blankets - must be disposed of in an Environment Agency licensed asbestos landfill site and carried by vehicles marked with hazardous waste signage.
As with earlier versions of this form of effective, yet low-tech fire prevention equipment, modern fire blankets also incorporate some type of fire resistant or fire retardant material. This material, which can withstand high temperatures, essentially cuts off oxygen to the fire in order to smother and extinguish the flames.
Kevlar (poly-para-phenylene terephthalamide) is also popular for its inherent heat-resistant characteristics. Kevlar is a low weight, high strength material that is stable at high temperature and whose fibres are five times stronger than steel per unit weight (in tension). It is used for heat- or flame-resistant fabrics. An inner layer of fire retardant film is incorporated into two layers of glass fibre or kevlar.
They are most commonly used in homes, workshops or kitchens. However, some safety investigations have resulted in revisions to recommendations for kitchen fires caused by cooking oil or fat. Fire blankets are no longer considered suitable for this application. This comes after some blankets caught fire during cooking oil fires. Fire blankets are also considered unsuitable for fires caused by flammable gases.
There are larger fire blankets available for use in schools, offices, research facilities, industrial settings and so on. These blankets can be made from wool that has been treated with some form of fire retardant liquid.
 Care and regulations
Fire blankets should be permitted to cool after being used, and should be disposed of properly. However, they do not require servicing or repair, and do not go out of date if they are not used. In school settings, fire blankets should be inspected at least annually and replaced after they are used.
'BS EN 1869:2019 Fire blankets' specifies requirements for fire blankets used to control small fires. The standard indicates that the blankets should not be reused after being deployed in a fire extinguishing capacity. It also issues a warning against use on electrical equipment since they can seriously damage the equipment. The guidance recommends indoor use only. The 2019 standard replaces BS EN 1869:1997. Prior to that, fire blankets were covered under BS 6575.
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