Fire Extinguisher Safety | Using Fire Extinguishers in the Workplace
Let’s imagine, one day you’re walking towards the the warehouse, or the maintenance shop, or your place of work, and you see smoke clouds rising and you smell something burning. As you walk closer, you can see a light gray smoke billowing out from the windows of the shop. You run inside and find contents burning inside of a plastic garbage can. Now what do you do? What’s burning in the garbage can? Where is the nearest fire extinguisher? What kind of fire extinguisher is it? Is the fire too big to be put out with an extinguisher? Will an extinguisher even work in this situation? Is there anyone else inside the building that needs to be alerted of the fire? If you don’t know your fire and fire extinguisher safety, you too could find yourself in a situation like this with a million questions and thoughts racing through your head.
A majority of fire incidents, injuries, and deaths occur from lack of preparation and knowledge when dealing with fires. If you are working in a dangerous work environment where the threat of a fire breaking out at any moment is significant, then you will want to ensure that you are well versed in fire and fire extinguisher safety. You also want to be able to recognize if the fire you are dealing with can be put out with a fire extinguisher, or if you are going to have to wait for help to arrive. If the fire is too big for an extinguisher to handle it, then you will want to evacuate everyone out of the area immediately and wait for the professionals to put it out. However, if the fire is small enough, you should be able to use the nearest fire extinguisher to eliminate the problem before it erupts into something much bigger and much more serious. Use this guide to help you recognize whether or not a fire can be fought with a fire extinguisher, and the types of fires that extinguishers are designed to combat.
Most portable or hand held fire extinguishers contain a dry chemical powder that will extinguish most fires that could flare up in your daily work environment. This powder, which tastes like sodium bicarbonate, is not toxic, but it will cause you to sneeze or cough if you were to accidentally inhale it. So be careful where you are spraying. Any portable or hand held extinguisher is designed to fight Class A, Class B, and Class C fires.
- Class A fires will contain materials like plastic, paper, wood, or other common combustibles.
- Class B fires contain oil, grease, or gasoline. A dry chemical extinguisher will still work on these types of fires, but we will warn you that it will be much tougher and should be approached with extreme caution.
- Class C fires contain burning electrical motors or a transformer. Note that these types of fires can change from Class C to Class A or B once the power has been cut off or shorts out. You can use dry chemicals on these types of fires because they won’t conduct electricity and will put out Class A or Class B fires.
When using a dry chemical fire extinguisher, (extinguishers you use for Class A, B, or C fires), use it like you would a can of spray paint, hair spray, or shaving cream cans. You do not have to turn it upside down to use it. When a fire breaks out, sweep the entire fire with the nozzle of the extinguisher in a back and forth motion. Remember to point the nozzle at what is actually burning, NOT the flames or the smoke. The entire point of using a fire extinguisher is to put a “barrier” between the fuel of the fire and the surrounding oxygen that keeps it alive. Do NOT empty out the rest of the extinguisher once you think all the flames and smoke are gone. There is a potential for the fire to flare back up, and if you empty out the extinguisher you will be left without anything to put out any fires that flare up again after the initial fire.
Always remember to have someone call the fire department before you attempt to put the fire out yourself. Firefighters are trained and paid to put fires out, don’t put yourself in any unnecessary dangerous situations when you can have professionals come in that know what to do before, during, and after a fire. There have been several injuries and deaths attributed to fires that rekindled or reignited hours after the initial flare up. Don’t fall victim to these types of fires simply because you tried to be the hero and didn’t allow trained professionals to take care of it.
Before ever starting work in the location you will be working, you want to be aware of where all fire extinguishers are and what types of fires they are designed to fight. Also, NEVER hang things like coats or stack materials in front of any fire extinguishers. Extinguishers have the tendency to be needed when you least expect it, so don’t fall victim to a fire because you couldn’t find a fire extinguisher that was hidden behind or under something. ALWAYS keep ALL fire extinguishers fully visible and easily accessible at ALL TIMES! Whenever a fire breaks out, a fire extinguisher should quickly and easily be found.
Again, this guide is meant for fire extinguisher use on SMALL fires. If the fire is too big or is too fast to control with an extinguisher, get everyone away from the fire and wait for the fire department to get there! Don’t be foolish and try to be the hero. You will likely end up seriously injured, or worse, dead. So , if the fire is small enough, use these fire extinguisher safety guidelines to help you put out the fire before it becomes bigger and more serious. If the fire is bigger and faster, be smart and allow professionally trained firefighters put out the fire. The main goal is to keep you and all of your coworkers safe and unharmed.
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