back to article BOFH: You say goodbye and I say halon

BOFH logo telephone with devil's horns "You're taking the halon away?!" the PFY gasps. "We have to," the Boss responds. "It's the Montreal Protocol," the fire engineer says. "You shouldn't even have halon in the first place." "It was installed years ago," I say. "It was purpose-built for the site." "It still should have …

  1. chivo243 Silver badge
    Holmes

    Not the Halon!

    I would have imagined that they found a way to keep it! Inspector would have been bribed\coerced or the victim of a most timely accident involving Halon? Or some clever switcheroo where the Halon comes back in the side door labeled as something else.

    Going after another boss... ballsy!

    1. doublelayer Silver badge

      Re: Not the Halon!

      They don't need to keep it. They just need some gaseous method of keeping people out of the room, and if they've implemented the nitrogen method correctly, that will work as well. Or, for that matter, if they've pretended to implement it correctly, that might be as good a deterrent as any. More importantly, if they had an event where halon was detected, it's a worse excuse if it's illegal to have around. They might not be found out for the original use, but they'd have consequences already.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not the Halon!

        I'd work on a catalyst method to make two nitrogen atoms and one oxygen atom combine to form Nitrous oxide. It's a colourless non-flammable gas - fill the room with it and the fire would immediately cease and everyone would be very happy.

        1. Hamish McNish

          Re: Not the Halon!

          Nitrous oxide is an efficient oxidising agent. QV Spaceship 1 and drug racers,

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not the Halon!

          Ice cold balloons! 1 for $3 or 2 for $5! Refills $2!

        3. midgepad

          Nitrous

          One of the few gases which support combustion more effectively than Oxygen.

      2. bpfh

        Re: Not the Halon!

        The halon never left the building if Simon’s waste disposal shell company and employed fire safety engineer had anything to do with it…

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: Not the Halon!

          I'm betting it did. They didn't need it anymore, so they had it discarded while pocketing a large "disposal fee". If they left it, that's just more problems when they use it on someone. Replacing it with a perfectly good alternative which is now known and therefore unsurprising is a neater way of throwing off investigations.

    2. veti Silver badge

      Re: Not the Halon!

      Kinda hard to keep the halon under the official radar if you use it to dispose of people. Nah, there's no point in keeping it.

      Nitrogen is much less incriminating, and - in the right concentration - just as dangerous.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    nitrogen rich environment

    Otherwise known as a Suicide bag.

  3. Hot Diggity

    Nitrogen rich environment

    So the server room was filled with the proverbial?

  4. non_hairy_biker
    Pint

    Yay it must be Friday

    Happy BOFH day one and all!

    I can't imagine in all this heat it's too early for one of these -------->

  5. keith_w Bronze badge

    Great murder choice.

    When you suffocate, it is not the lack of oxygen that triggers your awareness of suffocation, it is the build up of carbon dioxide in your blood. If you are breathing nitrogen and don't get enough oxygen, that trigger doesn't happen and you drift gently off to sleep, eventually on a permanent basis.

    1. H in The Hague Silver badge

      Re: Great murder choice.

      "If you are breathing nitrogen and don't get enough oxygen, that trigger doesn't happen and you drift gently off to sleep, eventually on a permanent basis."

      Correct - you don't notice. Nitrogen is used on a large scale to inert chemical process equipment which may contain flammable substances. And sadly people enter those environments and collapse, then one of their colleagues tries to get the victim out and then collapses themselves, etc.

      Similar accidents have happened inside barges which have been sealed up for a while and where rusting has resulted in an oxygen-depleted atmosphere. I think there are even types of clay which can cause anoxic conditions in trenches dug in them.

      1. Ozan

        Re: Great murder choice.

        For years, safety alwaya told us to eun when we saw someone collapse and then call emergency.

    2. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: Great murder choice.

      ...you drift gently off to sleep, eventually on a permanent basis

      So, much the same as the House of Lords then?

      1. Kaemaril#

        Re: Great murder choice.

        So, much the same as the House of Lords then?

        Only with less snoring.

    3. RockBurner

      Re: Great murder choice.

      Obviously not something the great state of Texas (or other, similar minded states) would ever consider for it's Death Row inmates then - there'd be no obvious terror in the eyes of the inmate for the victims to watch.

      Otherwise it seems a reasonable solution for those who approve of such behaviour by the state.

      1. fandom

        Re: Great murder choice.

        Because, obviously, political nuts have to take every change to shit on their enemies.

        1. Dr. Ellen

          Re: Great murder choice.

          There is a murder mystery by Monica Ferris, called Blackwork, which uses this as a murder method.

      2. Jon 37 Silver badge

        Re: Great murder choice.

        Various states are/were planning on it:

        https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/07/health/death-penalty-nitrogen-executions.html

        (Disable Javascript to avoid the paywall).

    4. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Great murder choice.

      I can attest to this. Back in the days when the school curriculum was less 'constrained', I had a great biology teacher for my 'O' level biology, Mr Chappel.

      On day, he decided to demonstrate this very thing to the class with a re-breather cabinet, where one 'lucky' student got to experience breathing the same air, both without and then with a carbon dioxide filter. Guess who that lucky student was!

      Without the filter, after a few minutes, I stated yawning and then breathing faster and faster while the rest of the class watched, but I remained lucid and responsive.

      After a few minutes to recover, he inserted the CO2 filter and repeated the experiment. I don't actually remember it too much, but apparently I started jabbering complete and utter rubbish as I was asked various questions, and it got to the point where I almost fell off the stool as I was passing out, only to be caught by a couple of quick thinking classmates on the front row of the lecture theatre.

      Oh how much more interesting were those days, before teachers would be reprimanded for cruel and unusual treatment their students. Not sure why I got chosen, I was one of the better (although maybe a slightly cheeky) student. Ah, yes I do. He knew my father (who had also taught biology at the same school) and probably guessed that he would not get into any hot water!

      1. GrahamRJ

        Re: Great murder choice.

        As a (relatively inexperienced) diver, the main theory elements for each qualification are the new and interesting ways you can kill yourself with the new combinations of gas, depth and time. So that people can get familiarised with what these actually feel like, diving clubs rent hyperbaric chambers from NHS hospitals to run so-called "dry dives" where they put you through those scenarios without actually being at risk of drowning. (And not coincidentally, also somewhere with a lot of doctors in very close proximity.)

    5. swm Silver badge

      Re: Great murder choice.

      Apples are preserved in a Nitrogen-rich storage. It keeps the apples "fresh" for 6 months or more.

      It can be fatal if someone wanders in to one of the storage sheds without proper precautions.

    6. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Great murder choice.

      One of the dangers of Covid-19 in fact.

      How? Well all the tissue samples in the building are kept in liquid nitrogen flasks so in order to make it easier for just the one person who was to in (in rotation) during lockdown and top them all up, the flasks were all put in the one big room. Of course liquid nitrogen needs replacing because it boils off... and... well a close call later and the flasks were distributed amongst several rooms and the refilling job was made something only a two person team could do.

    7. Myvekk

      Re: Great murder choice.

      I once tried walking into a small room where there had been a rapid burn of petrol vapors. High concentration of CO2. Took one step in & virtually bounced off it as the breathing reflex kicked in with a vengence. Felt like dry heaving, but with my lungs instead of stomach.

      By contrast, we had an environmental test chamber at work which was chilled by liquid nitrogen. We had to have oxygen meters installed to trigger an alarm if the O2 partial pressure in the room dropped too far, because of the exact reason you stated.

  6. The_Idiot

    Hmmm...

    "Even with the removal of all the bottles and the eye-watering halon disposal fee"

    I can't remember - was the 'Halon system' ever tested? I can see a Swiss solution here (or possibly Cayman Islands). A convenient 'engineer', and even more convenient 'legally required examination', an eye-watering never-installed-halon installation fee, eye watering never-needed-to-dispose-of disposal fee - and now the fee for the never-installed nitrogen room. That's an interesting retirement fund for a room that can catch fire conveniently and have a convenient 'fire protection system failure' if it ever becomes necessary...

    1. Rogue Jedi

      Re: Hmmm...

      The Haylon system was indeed tested significantly more than once, to the point that several installments mention the dificualty of obtaining black market Haylon, obtaining Nitrogen will be a bit easier.

      1. Dr. Ellen

        Re: Hmmm...

        I worked in a museum that had a vault to store books and artifacts, protected by a halon system. We were told that halon quenches fire in relatively small percentages, so if somebody happened to be in the vault when it was released, they still could breathe (though they'd be wise to leave promptly). None of us tested that.

        In any case, it's better than releasing the kraken.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Hmmm...

          A rum based fire suppression system? Now that's a novel idea.

          1. jonathan keith Silver badge

            Re: Hmmm...

            The Red Adair approach to putting out fires - extinguish them with explosives.

            1. sev.monster Bronze badge

              Re: Hmmm...

              The pressure changes suck all the oxygen away from the combustion source, instantly putting out the fire.

              You do now however have to deal with the result of a massive explosion required to do such a thing.

              A good tradeoff if I've ever heard one.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Very good shot at the 'Headline of the Year' award.

    Must give a nod to the Headline of this BOFH, particularly the sub-headline/lyrics.

    Very well played !!!

    :)

    1. Matthew "The Worst Writer on the Internet" Saroff

      Re: Very good shot at the 'Headline of the Year' award.

      Not even close to the best headline of the year. The best headline of the year comes from the New York Times, of all places, in an article about marine life hunting on shore:

      When an Eel Climbs a Ramp to Eat Squid From a Clamp, That's a Moray.

      The competition is now for second place.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Very good shot at the 'Headline of the Year' award.

        Good spot, I did see that one .... and forgot about it.

        [Also read the captions for each of the included pictures, which continues in the same vein :) ]

        The readers comments did sort of 'do it to death' though !!!

        N.B. I did say 'Very good shot at ...'

      2. oddie

        Re: Very good shot at the 'Headline of the Year' award.

        Unrelated but somehow related.

        To the tune of "Thats Amore"

        When the teeth open wide, and theres more teeth inside, thats A-Moray.

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Priceless

    Much like the Halon removal.

    With the Boss being so 'important' his office obviously need fire protection too. Just goes to show how thoughtful the BOFH is!

  9. DS999 Silver badge

    I'm curious

    Does anyone actually use this type of solution in server rooms? Fires won't start with less than 15% or so oxygen at sea level, which is equivalent to the oxygen on a typical long haul flight so not anything most of us are unfamiliar with.

    Seems like way too simple and cheap a solution (if your server room is sealed or you can easily make it so) but I must be missing something or this would be what everyone uses and halon suppression systems would never have been invented.

    1. Dave Pickles

      Re: I'm curious

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypoxic_air_technology_for_fire_prevention

      I suppose the advantage of halon is that you have a normal working environment until the fire happens.

      1. AdamT

        Re: I'm curious

        I wonder if there is a risk of ending up with the opposite problem?

        i.e. something flammable gets hot enough to burn if there was a normal oxygen level but doesn't burn because there isn't enough oxygen. Then someone opens a door or there is a leak of regular air into the room and suddenly that thing bursts into flame with no other warning.

        I guess the key point is that hot/burning things are Bad and all you can really do is try to influence what type of Bad you get.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: I'm curious

          IIRC it's a big problem in firefighting. Room on fire uses up all the oxygen, somebody opens the door, fresh air flows in = bad day for all concerned

          1. AdamT

            Re: I'm curious

            Yeah - there was a film about that. I'm sure it was hyper-well researched and highly accurate!

            Backdraft (1991): https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0101393/

            But it is a real effect and something similar happened in the real-life, horrifying and closer to (my) home disaster at Kings Cross London Underground station in 1987. The fire created it's own oxygen deprived environment which enabled it to slowly pre-heat the old wooden escalator steps until the flashover/backdraft event could suddenly occur. The combination of these two effects was previously unknown and now has a name: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trench_effect

            (sorry - don't mean to be all real life and depressing on a humorous article! But this stuff is complicated and fascinating I find...)

            1. TRT Silver badge

              Re: I'm curious

              That effect was known as the canyon effect. It was a version of the chimney effect that no one had seen before. They expected the fire to run along the ceiling of the escalator hall following rising hot flammable gases released from materials as they warmed up. Instead it crept slowly up the bottom of the valley which was the escalator mechanism until there was sufficient heat for it all to erupt in seconds.

              And they used a computer to model it, so there's the link!

              1. AdamT

                Re: I'm curious

                If I recall correctly, from when we looked at this as a case study in my engineering degree, they did the computer modelling, they didn't believe it, so they built a 1/3 scale model in a quarry and tried it for real.

          2. Eyebeebe

            Re: I'm curious

            It‘s also an issue when you close the vents on a hot kamado barbecue and a short while later open the lid. I looked it up on YouTube AFTER I‘d produced a fireball in my new barbecue and nearly had my eyebrows and arm hairs singed off.

            This guy not quite so lucky.

            https://youtu.be/2JBHxmezsAQ

    2. sev.monster Bronze badge

      Re: I'm curious

      We have it on ours. It's as old as the servers that once inhabited it (SPARCservers if you're curious) and as far as I know has never been used. I doubt it works, and if it does, the halon has likely already vented into the atmosphere at some point over the 20-odd years it's been in the building.

    3. Crash_and_Burn

      Re: I'm curious

      It is used in aviation - in the fuel tanks.

      After TWA800 they developped a system to put a nitrogen-rich environment in a fuel reservoir. An example:

      https://aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/45938/how-does-the-nitrogen-generation-system-in-a-boeing-777-work

  10. Joe W Silver badge

    BEFH?

    I guess?

    Nice back and forth between the two bastards.

  11. Blofeld's Cat Silver badge
    Pint

    Hmm ...

    "...the eye-watering halon disposal fee..."

    I can't help feeling that this involved their black-market halon supplier, with the BOFH, PFY and fire engineer all receiving well-stuffed brown envelopes.

  12. Richard Jones 1
    Facepalm

    I worked in a new building with halon in the equipment rooms. It fired off once, causing great alarm but no harm.

    A fire in the storage area, used to hold materials during the final phase of construction, was more dramatic.

    A spare Halon bottle cooked in the fire, it vented, travelling about 100 yards through the air and into someone's bedroom via the wall.

    The accident investigators were not amused when told that the cylinder was a fire extinguisher. The clerk of works was arrested until delicate negotiations secured a truce

  13. Halon1

    I'm new to this site. Does anyone know what country this discussion is taking place?

    1. Bedouin Scout

      Where are we?

      Generally discussions on El Reg are dominated by us Brits; El Reg being UK based site an' all. However the nature of this discussion has nothing specific to any territory, so the contributors could be based anywhere.

      Murder doesn't recognise international borders. Muhaha!

    2. KLane

      England, I believe

      There are references to Pubs, Leeds, and other English terms in other stories, so that's my guess....

      1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: England, I believe

        & occasional references to pounds sterling.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: England, I believe

          And red double-decker buses, London, River Thames, you know, British things.

          1. sev.monster Bronze badge
            Joke

            Re: England, I believe

            Fish'n'chips, a pip-pop tip-top cheery-oh!

            1. Lil Endian

              Re: England, I believe

              #Belts off, trousers down! Isn't life a scream! Hey!!!#

    3. Rol Silver badge

      Wherever it is written, it's creator has either a blessed gift for these imaginative plots, or under no circumstances should they be approached.

    4. AdamT

      Well the author is New Zealand based (and always has been) according to wikipedia and the El Reg bio:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bastard_Operator_From_Hell#Simon_Travaglia

      https://www.theregister.com/Author/Simon-Travaglia

      But I think it is generally accepted that the character and stories are based in the UK, and the UK specific references seem to be consistent with that (as KLane and The Oncoming Scorn mention): pubs, UK cities, UK slang and pounds, etc.

      Either that or NZ is much more similar to the UK than I was aware...

      1. PRR
        Devil

        > author is New Zealand based (and always has been) according to...

        His own blog claims a year abroad (yes, London is "abroad" for many of us).

        "In late '92 I went to London for a year to seek my fortune... I ended up working .... the 2nd floor Operations Room of Enterprise Oil overlooking the Sherlock Holmes pub on Northumberland Street. ....

        "I got back home, took up a job as Analyst Programmer, kissed the Computer Room goodbye, and thought that would make a fitting end to the BOFH. .. That was the idea anyway."

    5. Martipar

      It used to be set in New Zealand but BOFH moved to London in the early 2000's (IIRC) Simon Travaglia hosts the archive on his site and the rest from 2001 onwards are on The Register

    6. doublelayer Silver badge

      London. The company has moved premises from time to time but has always remained in or near to London. Of course, sometimes it's a London as envisioned by a New Zealander, but London is the goal nonetheless.

  14. just_some_canuck

    !

    So it's DECIDED!

  15. TomPhan

    BFEFH?

    So a spin-off where a fire engineer goes around swapping the labels on tanks and selling nitrogen at raves?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    missed a trick

    When the CO2 solution was brought up, I expected the BOFH to start a CO2 sequestration racket (maybe installing a network of ugly hoses throughout the office to "collect CO2", followed up by a heafty fee for sequestration services, payable to Climate Adaptation Services Holding).

    1. parlei

      Re: missed a trick

      My first thought was "CO2, that would be exiting with certain kinds of fires". Classic chemistry teacher demo: show that a match is extinguished in a flask filled with CO2, then insert a piece of burning magnesium. There is more oxygen in CO2 than in the paltry 20-ish% atmosphere.

      Science bonus is then showing the black spots on the inside of the flask, and asking (a) what are they, and (b) where did it come from.

  17. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Coffee/keyboard

    Ahhhh such dedication

    to be able to come up with an accidental boss replacement tool and yet no trace of how the foul deed was done

    We are learning so much here it defys belief.

    Now if only he could teach us the best way to protect our keyboards....

    although on the subject of teaching, our work experience guy left today, an older and wiser man, for although he never wants to have anything to do with the likes of us robot wranglers again, he has learned that in any future employment to seek out the oldest grumpiest employee and offer him coffee in the morning, then sit at his feet and learn the wisdom from him. And especially run any new idea past his eye and wait for the possible reactions:-

    1. laughter : forget about your idea and go get more coffee

    2. 'The look' : run away if you want to live and return after 30 mins with more coffee

    3. The raised eyebrow : your idea has some merit , fetch more coffee, notepads, pens, drawing equipment, laptop, CAD station, another coffee, a full cost analysis of your proposal and how best to sell it to the manglement.

  18. Evil Auditor

    Halon?

    Now, Simon, I for one am a bit sceptical. I seem to recall an earlier report of yours, at the time when halon was banned, which led to a accidental discharge of the halon systemsuccessful fire suppression. So how on earth did you save those halon bottles?

    Anyway, the nitrogen atmosphere is brilliant!

  19. Curtis

    Am I wrong here?

    Or would introducing a higher concentration of nitrogen possibly cause "the bends" when coming out of that environment and a potential way to punish certain parties?

    1. the Jim bloke Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Am I wrong here?

      At the concentrations they are talking about, . no.

      Nitrogen is already most of the atmospheric content, so increasing it slightly while at the same pressure wont make much difference.

      You would need to increase the actual pressure - to force the nitrogen to dissolve into the bloodstream in sufficient quantity that when the pressure is reduced the nitrogen will bubble out - causing harm by being in inappropriate places.

      This process requires higher than atmospheric pressure, and time to take effect, which is how the whole diving depth tables work.

      If some(soon-to-be)body deserves punishment, a self opening window, elevator shaft sans elevator, or autonomous car with a custom object recognition table (or one by uber) is probably a more reasonable option.

      1. stiine Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Am I wrong here?

        You forget that the computer room is a positive-pressure environment... let's not all spoil a future episode.

  20. Richard Boyce

    Royal Institution lecture

    There's a very interesting clip from an RI lecture on the use of 15% oxygen. Largely fire-proof but safe to breath.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-E1PLZpJG0

    1. stiine Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Royal Institution lecture

      I've found a new channel to watch!

    2. parlei

      Re: Royal Institution lecture

      IIRC they sometimes use a lower O2 concentration on submaries, for that reason. And if http://bowlofstew.com/everest-oxygen-concentration and my memory is correct halving the O2 content would "just" but you a bit over the Mt Everst Base camp (around 6000 m). Perfectly survivable for most people, at least short term.

    3. kiwimuso
      Flame

      Re: Royal Institution lecture

      @R Boyce

      "There's a very interesting clip from an RI lecture on the use of 15% oxygen. Largely fire-proof but safe to breath."

      Ah, that explains what happened to me when I was working in Mexico City and for a weekend side trip I did a Gray Line trip to climb Popacatapetl. (Yes, what could possibly go wrong!)

      We drove up the mountain on Friday night, where we were to spend the night at a lodge at 12,000 feet.

      As we were due to wake up for the climb at some ungodly hour of the morning like 4.30, I went outside for a last cigarette (as I was still smoking then) but was denied the pleasure as my cigarette lighter would not ignite.

      I think I was aware at the time that it was probably reduced oxygen at that height, but this explains it much better.

      It also explained the effect we felt when testing our then new CO2 fire suppressant system in our new computer room, where the gas was discharged and the testing engineer allowed us into the room after it had mostly cleared. I remember it was a weird feeling as it it felt like I had run a marathon, as in shortness of breath without doing any actual exercise. Exactly the same feeling I got at 15,000 feet on Popacatapetl, although at that point I had been exercising rather a lot, but the shortness of breath feeling was exactly the same.

      Icon, 'cause that's NOT what happened.

      Yes, another channel to watch.

  21. JBowler

    CO2 is much better; everyone panics

    Yeah, Nitrogen, Cool. Inhales, dies; not because it is poisonous, but because it isn't.

    CO2: eh, I can't breathe, I CANNE BREATHE!!! Relax, your blood acid is slightly higher than normal because of elevated CO2 levels. If you just ignore it it will go away; remember humans don't actually need to breath in for a long time, more than five minutes. It's just the rising blood acid levels that make them panic. Oh, you're panicking, please don't do that.

    Flood the room with CO2, watch who reaches the panic button last. No one dies.

    Halon. Ha ha; marketing. Magic chemicals that interrupt the *combustion*thought process extremely marketingly.

  22. Robert Grant Silver badge

    I'm going to have to use that "So it's decided!" trick.

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      In real life I've been in many a meeting where it happens the other way around. A clear agreement is reached in about 5 minutes because choice X is clearly the best. Then the next 115 minutes is spent discussing the merits of all the other options until finally we all agree that X is the best choice.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Halon and CO2

    In the olden days on a fire training they showed a small halon extinguisher in action, impressive stuff for the size. I heard stories of a CO2 system going off in a server room and the noise shattered a lot of hard-disk platters.

    1. Sam not the Viking

      Re: Halon and CO2

      I visited a 'utility' which had installed a halon fire-suppressant system into the control room switchgear. When Health & Safety came to review the modification, they forbade anyone to enter the room without full breathing apparatus, a safety crew suitably equipped and an ambulance on standby outside.

      The utility was effectively shut down until the cylinders could be removed. I have no idea how much it cost us rate-payers......

  24. Hazmoid

    Halon/CO2

    I worked at a Herbarium that had multiple "libraries" each with it's own halon system. Next to the door and spread throughout the libraries, were breathing apparatus. When it was changed to CO2 the breathing apparatus were left there.

    Only went off once that I know of and happened to trap the oldest scientist (about 80 when I worked there), who handled it completely within his stride.

  25. ForthIsNotDead Silver badge
    Pint

    +1 for the headline

    I'm just hear to upvote the brilliant Beatles invoked headline!

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