iflscience.com – By Rachael Funnell – Toilets take on a lifesaving role in a 1981 patent that proposed the water trap within a basin could give a person trapped in a burning room access to fresh air. The patent claims that if a room is filled with toxic gases, the inhabitants just might survive by inserting a tube through the water and out the other side, sucking on their toilet snorkel until help arrives.
The impressive out-the-box thinking came from William O Holmes, who was inspired by a rash of high-rise hotel fires that resulted in loss of life due to toxic smoke inhalation. According to Michigan State University, smoke inhalation is actually the most common cause of death in hours fires rather than burning.
When a fire breaks out, it needs oxygen to burn, so it doesn’t take long before this is sapped from the environment. Without oxygen to breathe, entrapped people will likely pass out before they have time to make it to the exits, or before help has time to arrive.
That could all change were, say, a high-rise hotel to have some kind of built-in airway to guests’ rooms that acts as a gateway to fresh air while a person remains trapped in toxic smoke. Enter: the toilet.
While a tube into a toilet basin can do little to keep fire at bay, Holmes argued it could provide life-saving access to cleaner air, buying people trapped inside a burning building some precious extra minutes to get out alive. So, how does it work?