Fire Extinguisher Safety

fire extinguisher safety
(Photo Credit: Jared Bartlett)

When they are used correctly, fire extinguishers can save both lives and property, but many adults do not know how to properly use one. It is important to know how fire extinguishers work, how to use them, how to identify which type to use, and how to maintain them before a fire takes place.

Before Using an Extinguisher

While it is necessary to act quickly in the event of a fire, education also goes a long way in fighting hostile fires. Knowing what to do in an emergency before it happens will help make firefighting quicker and safer:

  • Pull the alarm – If you see a fire, always activate the fire alarm to alert both the occupants of the building as well as the fire department (call 9-1-1 if your alarm system doesn’t do this automatically).
  • Plan an escape route – if you plan on fighting the fire, know how to leave the area quickly in case the fire gets out of control. Only fight the fire if you have a clear escape route.
  • Know how to use the extinguisher – take time to learn how to properly aim, sweep, and extinguish a fire; many offices and companies have annual employee safety trainings which include fire extinguisher exercises.
  • Assess the size of the fire – fire extinguishers are only meant to put out small, single-location fires; never attempt to put out a large conflagration with a handheld extinguisher.
  • Determine the fuel source – it is important to know what kind of fire is burning before you use an extinguisher – using the incorrect extinguisher can be extremely dangerous – by spreading the fire or causing flare ups. For example, using a water-based extinguisher can spread an oil fire or electrocute a user fighting an electrical fire, and Carbon Dioxide extinguishers can actually fuel certain types of fires.

Types of Extinguishers

A fire’s fuel source will determine what type of fire extinguisher needs to be used to extinguish it. In the United States, there are five classes of fires as defined by the National Fire Protection Association:

  • Class A – Common combustibles such as wood, paper, most plastics, rubber, and fabric. Symbols: Triangle with letter A and picture of burning wood/trash can.
  • Class B – Flammable liquid such as gasoline, oil, paint, and kerosene. Symbols: Square with letter B and picture of burning gasoline jerry can.
  • Class C – Electrical fires and electrical equipment. Symbols: Circle with letter C and picture of burning electrical plug and socket.
  • Class D – Combustible metals such as lithium batteries, sodium, magnesium, and potassium. Symbol: Five-Pointed Star with letter D and picture of burning machine gears.
  • Class K – Cooking oils and fats such as vegetable oils, margarine, butter, animal fats, and grease. Symbol: Hexagon with letter K and picture of pan/pot on fire.

Each class is marked on an extinguisher by both a letter (class letter), and a symbol. Most homes and offices contain multi-purpose “ABC” extinguishers which can be used for those three classes of fire. The contents of fire extinguishers vary depending on the class of fire being put out. Some materials can put out multiple classes of fire, while others are used for only a specific class. These include dry chemicals, foams, Carbon Dioxide, halon gases, compressed water, and pressurized metal based powders. It is important to know what is in your building’s extinguishers so they do not cause more damage than necessary (especially when used around electronic equipment). It is also important you never use the incorrect class of extinguisher as it may exacerbate the fire.

Using an Extinguisher

When using an extinguisher, remember the acronym “PASS”, which stands for, Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep. Stand between 6 to 8 feet away from the fire and:

  • Pull the safety pin to release the trigger.
  • Aim at the base of the fire (where the fuel source is).
  • Squeeze the trigger continuously until the spraying stops.
  • Sweep from side to side until the fire extinguisher is empty.

An average size fire extinguisher dispenses its contents within 8 to 10 seconds – if the fire does not disappear, leave the area immediately.

Proper Maintenance

Fire extinguishers need to be routinely checked for adequate pressure and cleanliness.

  • Make sure there is no visible rust or dents on the extinguisher and the handle/trigger are clean and free of dust and debris.
  • Fire extinguishers should always be kept in easy to reach, clearly visible (and marked with signage), unobstructed places, evenly distributed among floor plans and throughout multiple floors of a building. Keep in mind the typical hazards located around the building – keep Class K extinguishers near the kitchen, Class C extinguishers near the computer room/server room, and class A extinguishers near the dumpster.
  • Depending on the type of chemical/gas used, the fire extinguisher will need to undergo hydrostatic pressure testing by a professional on a varying schedule: between 5 years for wet contents, CO2, & foams, and up to 12 for halon gases, dry powders, and dry chemicals.
  • Extinguishers exposed to elements such as vibrations, extreme heat or cold, or ones stored on vehicles should be inspected/tested more frequently.
  • Regular maintenance such as visual inspections, cleanings, and pressure checks should be done every month.
  • In areas with many kids and teenagers, fire extinguishers should be kept in protected cabinets (where glass must be broken or an alarm sounds if opened) to deter vandalism.

While fire extinguishers can be the first line of defense against a fire, they have their limitations. Never use a fire extinguisher without training and only use it to combat small fires. Handheld extinguishers are ineffective against conflagrations, so the best course of action when confronted with a large fire is to leave the area immediately and wait for the fire department from a safe distance. Most importantly, always activate the fire alarm and if for any reason you cannot fight the fire, leave the area at once; you can replace property, but you can’t replace lives.

“Choosing and using fire extinguishers.” U.S. Fire Administration, FEMA, 29 Dec. 2016, www.usfa.fema.gov/prevention/outreach/extinguishers.html. Accessed 10 Mar. 2017.

Bicycle Safety for Motorists and Cyclists

bicycle safety
(Photo Credit: Google Maps)

Cycling is a great workout and can make for a healthy and cheap alternative to driving a car or using public transport to get around. Riding a bike is good for traffic, good for health, and good for the environment, but it does not come without its own set of risks. There are many things that both motorists and cyclists can do to make sure everyone shares the road safely and courteously.

Motorists

  • Watch for bikes when opening doors. Passengers and drivers blindly opening doors into bike lane can cut off a cyclist, causing a crash between the cyclist and the door, or force them to dangerously steer into motor vehicle traffic. In most states, opening doors into traffic establishes fault if doing so results in an accident.
  • Share the road. Give bikes space, especially on crowded streets. Only pass when there is enough room to do so safely and never tailgate a person on a bike.
  • Check for cyclists when turning or pulling over to the side of the road. Motorists may not always think to check the right side of the car when turning or pulling over to the right, but a bike may be approaching. Treat bike lanes like another lane of traffic.
  • Do not park in bike lanes. Aside from being a fineable offense, this forces cyclists into motor vehicle traffic.
  • Always use your headlights – even during the day. Using your headlights at all times helps other road users see your vehicle better, especially in inclement weather.
  • Get off the phone. This should go without saying and applies whether cyclists are present or not, and sharing the road with cyclists requires extra attention. Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents.

Cyclists

  • Always wear a helmet – while this may only be a legal requirement for those under 16, this should be rule number one for all riders. The leading part of the body to fly forward off of a bike in a crash is usually the head and bike helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 60%.
  • Know the rules of the road. Cyclists must follow the same rules as motorists and can be cited for things such as running red lights, not yielding for pedestrians in crosswalks, and heading the wrong way down a street.
  • Always use your headlights and taillights at night and make sure they are the correct color (white for front, red for back), and clearly visible from a distance of at least 600 feet. Reflectors must be present on both the front and back sides of the pedals or on the ankles of the rider.
  • Wear highly visible clothing, especially at night.
  • Never ride on limited access highways such as interstates. These roads are marked with signage at onramps prohibiting bicycles.
  • Cyclists must yield to pedestrians, especially when riding on sidewalks (not all towns and neighborhoods allow bike riding on public sidewalks). When passing a pedestrian, cyclists should use an audible warning such as a bell or verbally calling out to the pedestrian.
  • Use hand signals to indicate the intention to stop, turn, or change lanes.