Firefighting Archive Video Reminder: Firefighter Without SCBA/Facegear Hit By Hot Debris from Magnesium Flareup


A firefighter was hit in the face and eyes about one year ago when heated magnesium in the Chevy Astro van reacted with water streaming from the fire hose.

About one year ago Evansville firefighters responded at 12:30 p.m. to a report of a van fire in the 3500 block of South Weinbach. With an up-close attack with an inch-and-a-half line, a firefighter was not wearing Self Contained Breathing Apparatus and the accompanying face mask. Hot debris from a burning magnesium/water flareup hit firefighter Wathen Masden in the face and eyes, which brought him to the ground. His eyes were irrigated at the scene, and he was transported to Deaconess Hospital, where he was treated and released from the hospital.

Magnesium metal and its alloys are explosive hazards, and are highly flammable in their pure form when molten or highly heated. Burning or molten magnesium metal reacts violently with water — producing a white hot flash. The bright white light produced by burning magnesium contains ultraviolet light, which can permanently damage the retinas of the eyes. Hydrogen gas is also produced when water reacts with burning magnesium, and the resulting hydrogen gas emitted is highly flammable.

Class D fire extinguishers are available specifically for metal fires, but firefighters will often still use water from a distance, which lets the metal burnout.

Vehicle fires have a multitude of hazards. Besides magnesium reactions after contact with water, air bag canisters can detonate and send the canister flying as a dangerous projectile 50 or more feet from the vehicle, air bags can detonate unexpectedly while a firefighter is in close proximity, and parts of the car can be energized with dangerous voltage in hybrid cars.