BANGKOK, Thailand — It looks like a little red dodgeball. But when tossed into a fire, it bursts open and douses the blaze with fire-retardant chemicals packed inside.
This is the future of fire extinguishers, says Thai inventor Phanawatnan Kaimart. His “Elide Fire Extinguishing Ball” is more intuitive than fire extinguishing spray tanks, he says, and requires only enough strength to toss a 3-pound ball.
“You just hurl it in and step back and then — poof! — it’s automatic,” Phanawatnan said.
The ball sells for about $82, the approximate price of a 10-pound canister-based fire extinguisher in the United States. The ball’s manufacturer, Siam Safety Premier, claims to have sold roughly 1 million balls since its 2001 release.
Extreme heat causes the ball to explode with a dramatic pop. In promotional YouTube videos, the ball appears to blast flame-stopping chemicals in all directions just seconds after it’s thrown into a fire. The flames are instantaneously gone, leaving behind a white chemical cloud.
Whereas many people flee fires and call for help, even children and the elderly are able to toss a ball, which is far simpler than operating a heavy fire extinguisher. Those who purchase it are advised to hang the ball in high-risk areas — gas pumps, circuit breakers, etc. — so that the ball will explode on its own if fires break out.
Phanawatnan traces the ball’s invention back to 1997, when he witnessed one of Thailand’s most deadly fires: a hotel blaze in seaside resort city Pattaya that left 90 dead. “I saw women running out cradling infants,” he said. “There was nothing I or anyone else could do to stop it.”
That tragedy inspired Phanawatnan to develop the ball. He tested dozens of different models in the sandy flatlands of Chonburi near the Gulf of Thailand, before settling on the current design. He claims his invention has saved lives twice in Thailand alone: first when it was used to quell a fishing boat’s engine fire and later when a house caught on fire in a cramped village.
“The village fire was extra scary,” he said. “Fire trucks didn’t come on time, so if it wasn’t for the ball, flames would have spread through the whole settlement.”
Outside of Thailand, the ball has found its greatest commercial success in Eastern Europe, though it’s patented in nearly 100 countries. Phanawatnan has also won several major awards for the ball, including a “best invention” from the International Federation of Inventors’ Associations and a bronze medal at the 2007 “World Genius Convention” in Japan.