Sunday, October 2, 2011



    This document was originally designed to focus on fire situations in chemistry laboratories. While it continues to mention laboratories, the information contained herein is broadly applicable to almost all workplaces.Fire is the most common serious hazard that one faces in a typical chemistry laboratory. While proper procedure and training can minimize the chances of an accidental fire, you must still be prepared to deal with a fire emergency should it occur (Look here for a graphic example). This document teaches you the basics about fire extinguishers - proper types, how to use them, when and when not to use them as well as the proper procedures to follow should a fire occur. It is not a comprehensive guide; be sure to read the disclaimer given below.

  If your clothing is on fire (and the floor is not), STOP, DROP and ROLL on the ground to extinguish the flames. If you are within a few feet of a safety shower or fire blanket, you can use these instead, but do not try to make it "just down the hall" if you are on fire. If one of your coworkers catches fire and runs down the hallway in panic, tackle them and extinguish their clothing
The two most common types of extinguishers in laboratories are pressurized dry chemical (Type BC or ABC, left) and carbon dioxide (CO2, right) extinguishers:.You may have other "clean agent" extinguishers besides CO2 (see next section), particularly if your workplace has sensitive electronic devices such as computers. Those who work with flammable metals may also have a specialized Class D dry powder extinguisher for use on fires (in a pinch, a bucket of dry sand will do, but you really should have a Class D unit if you work with such materials). Water-filled extinguishers are not acceptable for chemistry laboratory use. If you have a water-filled extinguisher in your laboratory, have it replaced immediately by contacting your campus or corporate Fire Marshal's office.
If you are not familiar with fire extinguishers and have not been trained in their use, DO NOT attempt to use them! If you work in a laboratory you should have received this training (it is usually a state or federal OSHA requirement); if not contact your supervisor immediately ( kidding).You are not required to fight a fire. Ever. If you have the slightest doubt about your control of the situation DO NOT FIGHT THE FIRE. Please see the Disclaimer below.

Use a mental checklist to make a Fight-or-Flight Decision. Attempt to use an extinguisher only if ALL of the following apply:
The building is being evacuated (fire alarm is pulled)

The fire department is being called (dial 911).

The fire is small, contained and not spreading beyond its starting point.

The exit is clear, there is no imminent peril and you can fight the fire with your back to the exit.

You can stay low and avoid smoke.

The proper extinguisher is immediately at hand.

You have read the instructions and know how to use the extinguisher.

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Whenever possible, use the "Buddy System" to have someone back you up when using a fire extinguisher. If you have any doubt about your personal safety, or if you can not extinguish a fire, leave immediately and close off the area (close the doors, but DO NOT lock them). Leave the building but contact a firefighter to relay whatever information you have about the fire.

Pull the pin on the fire extinguisher.

Stand several feet from the fire, depress the handle and sweep back and forth towards the fire. Note:

Do not walk on an area that you have "extinguished" in case the fire reignites or the extinguisher runs out! Remember: you usually can't expect more than 10 full seconds of extinguishing power on a typical unit and this could be significantly less if the extinguisher was not properly maintained or partially discharged.

The metal parts of CO2 extinguishers tend to get dangerously cold -- practice using one beforehand or have someone show you the proper way to hold one.

Again, proper training is usually required by state or federal OSHA!

Direct the extinguisher at the base of the flames until the fire is completely out.

Recharge any discharged extinguisher immediately after use. If you discharge an extinguisher (even just a tiny bit) or pull the pin for any reason, call your campus or corporate Fire Marshal's office to arrange a replacement.


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