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Fire extinguishing sketch

Know When to Fight a Fire or When to Flee!

The National Safety Council is focusing on emergency preparedness. Do you have policies in place to deal with an emergency in the workplace? Professional Safety Training Services, Inc. is happy to share this interesting information that we found on one aspect of emergency response.

Evacuation Plans and Procedures
Fight or Flee?

Fire is the most common type of emergency a business may face. A critical decision in planning for this emergency situation is whether or not employees should fight a fire with a portable fire extinguisher. Small fires can often be put out by a well-trained employee with a fire extinguisher. To do so safely, the employee must understand the uses and limitations of a portable fire extinguisher and the hazards associated with fighting fires.

Should employees evacuate or be prepared to fight a small fire?

Choosing to evacuate the workplace rather than providing fire extinguishers for employee use will most effectively minimize the potential of fire-related injuries. Additionally, training employees to use and maintain portable fire extinguishers requires considerable resources. On the other hand, you will want to consider the availability of a public fire department and the time it may take to respond as well as the vulnerability of egress routes when you're making a policy decision on this issue.

The options available fall into four categories:
     1. Total evacuation of employees immediately when alarm sounds.
     2. Designated employees are authorized to fight fires
         with extinguishers.
     3. All employees are authorized to fight fires with extinguishers.
     4. Extinguishers are provided but not intended for employee use.

According to OSHA 1910.157, all four options require the establishment of an emergency action plan. Options two and three require employees be trained annually on how to use a fire extinguisher and that the extinguishers are inspected, tested and maintained. Option four requires that the extinguishers be inspected, tested and maintained.

Risk Assessment

Prior to fighting any fire with a portable fire extinguisher, those involved must perform a risk assessment that evaluates the size of the fire, the evacuation route the fire extinguisher users will use and the atmosphere in vicinity of the fire.

Characteristics of fires that can be extinguished with portable fire extinguishers:
·  The fire is limited to the original materials ignited
·  It is contained in a wastebasket or other receptacle
·  The flames are no higher than the fire fighter's head
·  The fire has not depleted the oxygen in the room
·  Heat is being generated but the room temperature is only slightly increased
·  Smoke may be accumulated on the ceiling but visibility
is good
·  There is a clear evacuation path behind the fire fighter as he or she uses the extinguisher

Characteristics of fires that SHOULD NOT be extinguished with portable fire extinguishers:
·  The fire involves flammable solvents and has spread over more than 60 square feet
·  It cannot be reached from a standing position
·  It is partially hidden behind a wall or ceiling
·  The fire cannot be fought without respiratory protection
·  The radiated heat is easily felt on exposed skin making it difficult to approach to within 10-15 feet of the fire
·  Smoke is filling the room very quickly decreasing visibility
·  Fire, heat or smoke may block the evacuation path

 

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