Fire Protection

October is National Fire Prevention Month, and it is a good time to review fire safety and emergency response with employees. Too many employers underestimate their risk for fire, and either lack the emergency response plans, or fail to practice them with fire drills. A big part of emergency response plans includes the use of fire extinguishers and proper training on their use. OSHA 1910.157(g) specifies where the employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace, the employer shall also provide an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage fire fighting.

Training includes more than just telling an individual to pull the pin and shoot right? Unfortunately this is the attitude of too many individuals. Their lack of education can be hazardous to themselves as well as those working near them. Ever see someone throw water on a grease fire? Does the fire go out…no, it actually spreads! So knowing what is burning and what to use to extinguish it is crucial. Fire extinguisher training is designed to inform employees on the different types of fires as well as the different types of extinguishers.

There are four main classes of fires:

There are four main classes of fires:

  • Class A – Wood, paper, cloth, trash, plastics (Class A  fires generally leave an Ash.)
  • Class B – Flammable liquids: gasoline, oil, grease (Class B fires generally Boil or  Bubble.)
  • Class C – Electrical: energized electrical equipment (Class C fires generally deal with electrical Current.)
  • Class D – Metals: potassium, sodium, aluminum, magnesium

And to extinguish these fires there are four main classes of fire extinguishers

  • Water: (Usually found in a silver container) Only to be used on Class A fires
  • Dry Chemical: Can be used on Class A, B, and C fires. Not effective on Class D
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2): Can be used on Class B and C fires. This agent removes the oxygen from the fire. However, it can also remove oxygen from the user and therefore must not be used in enclosed or confined spaces
  • Dry Powder: Specifically designed to fight Class D combustible metal fires

As previously stated it is important to know not only what is burning but also what kind of extinguisher is required. In times of emergencies we probably don’t want to search the label of the extinguisher to determine if we have the correct kind of extinguisher. Therefore pictograms are now placed on many extinguishers to show the types of fires that can be safely extinguished using that particular unit.

fire extinguisher pictograms

As illustrated above, these symbols show what materials can be safely extinguished using that particular extinguisher. These same symbols can be used to show what type of fire not to attempt to extinguish as well.

fire extinguisher pictograms do not use

But even if you have the correct extinguisher there are several other things that must be considered:

  • 1st, assist any person in immediate danger to safety, if it can be accomplished without risk to yourself.
  • Call 911 or have someone else call if you feel the fire may be too large to control with a fire extinguisher.
  • The fire is not spreading rapidly.
  • Smoke and heat has not filled the area.
  • You have a clear path of escape.

Fire Extinguishers are a valuable tool and can save lives as wells as property. However, if not properly trained, these same tools can cost lives and there can be no price tag placed on that.


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