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Fire Safety

Very small fires (like a trash can fire) can usually be extinguished easily with the proper use of an extinguisher (see below) or by "suffocating" the flames. However, in the event that you encounter a large or spreading fire, sound the alarm and exit the building! In most cases, when an alarm is activated campus police dispatch receives an automatic signal (but not always!). It is important to report all fires. If you see a fire in a building and hear no alarm, pick up a campus phone (from a safe distance) and dial x2373 or using your cell phone dial 9-1-1. Even if you have contained a very small fire yourself, you must still notify dispatch.

Here are some very basic rules to keep in mind if the fire alarm sounds:

  • Stay calm, but do not ignore the alert.
  • Inform those around you that might be hearing impaired, or otherwise unable to hear the alarm.
  • Gather your immediate belongings and exit the building calmly.
  • Close doors behind you as you leave (this helps contain the spread of fire and smoke).
  • Shut off any major equipment/electronics.
  • Never use the elevator. Always use the stairs.
  • Do not open doors that feel warm to the touch.
  • If the area you are in fills with heavy smoke, exit on your hands and knees to avoid inhaling debilitating fumes and smoke.
  • After safely exiting the building, let emergency personnel on the scene know of any occupants that may have remained in the building and their general location. This is especially important if those individuals were unable to escape (e.g., people trapped, injured, or confined to a wheelchair on an upper level).
  • Stay clear of emergency vehicles. You should exit to an area about 100 feet from the building and stay with your classroom or the group from your particular work area. Do not re-enter the building until the all clear signal has been given by emergency personnel on scene.

Fire extinguisher training now available!

Fire Extinguishers


    Fire Classification

    Class A Fires - ordinary combustibles: The most common fire, called Class A, involves burning wood, cloth, paper and plastic. These fires start every day and have the ability to spread to other similar materials. Waste paper cans filled to over-flowing, and piles of old newspapers are a frequent fuel for Class A fires. Water is an excellent extinguishing agent for Class A fires.

    Class B Fires - flammable liquids: Class B fires involve flammable and combustible liquids. Burning liquids can flow rapidly and spreading a fire.  For example, if toluene spills from a broken bottle, it can spread out rapidly, evaporate and ignite.  Water will usually not extinguish this type of fire. The burning liquid will float on the surface of the water and spread the fire further.

    Class C Fires - electrical equipment: Fires in energized electrical equipment, called Class C, are especially dangerous to fight. In addition to the dangers associated with the fire, the potential for electrocution exists. Never attempt to put out a Class C fire with water.

    Class D Fires - burning metals: Burning metals, called pyrophoric metals, such as magnesium and sodium are the toughest to put out, and are called Class D. By their very nature, they are unresponsive to conventional fire extinguishers. Special extinguishing agents must be used or the fire may be smothered with dry sand.


    Types of Fire Extinguishers

    There are recommended fire extinguishers for each class of fire. The following describes some of the common types that can be used:

    Class A type: Class A fire extinguishers can be used for ordinary combustibles.  Water-based Class A fire extinguishers can include water, loaded stream, antifreeze, wetting agents, and aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) types.  Never use these on electrical fires.

    Class ABC Multipurpose Dry Chemical: Most areas contain a variety of ordinary combustibles, solvents and electrical equipment. A Class ABC multipurpose dry chemical fire extinguisher can be used to handle any of A, B, or C class fires.  This multipurpose fire extinguisher discharges a stream of monoammonium phosphate (or other dry chemical) which extinguishes most types of fires you would encounter on campus.

    Class ABC Halon 1211: Halon 1211 fire extinguishers, if large enough, are considered Class ABC and can be used in place of Class ABC multipurpose dry chemical fire extinguishers. They do not have the disadvantage of the clean-up and corrosiveness of the monoammonium phosphate types.  These types of extinguishers are not recommended due to human safety issues.

    Class BC Carbon Dioxide: Unless substantial amounts of Class A materials are involved, a Class BC carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguisher can be used.  This extinguisher releases a cloud of carbon dioxide to displace air and cut off the fire's oxygen (caution:  you need oxygen too!).  It is not as effective outdoors in large open areas.  Caution should be exercised with this extinguisher - contents are extremely cold upon release and can cause freeze burns (stay away from the nozzle).

    Fire extinguishers are also assigned Class A and B numerical ratings based on their relative effectiveness in extinguishing a particular type of fire. For example, a 4A rating can put out twice the size class A fire than a 2A rating can. The size of rating needed will depend on the relative amounts of the flammable materials present.

    Basic Safety Principles for Portable Extinguisher Use

    1. Do not attempt to fight a fire without sufficient facilities to combat it effectively.
    2. Remember every fire gives off toxic gases.
    3. Use extreme caution when an electrical appliance or wiring is involved in the fire (don't use water extinguishers for these types of fires).
    4. Never allow the fire to get between you and your means of escape.
    5. If outdoors, always attack the fire with the wind to your back.
    6. Never turn away from the fire; back out, keeping a watchful eye on the extinguished fire.
    7. Most extinguisher contents are under pressure and need to be treated with respect.

Using Fire Extinguishers

The following will provide information on fire extinguisher types and their proper use. Only use an extinguisher to fight your way "out" of fire, or to contain a very small and manageable fire. Never attempt to contain a large blaze or full fire yourself. Your first priority is your safety. It is best to set-up an extinguisher-use training session for you, your lab, class or your employees before you find yourself in the position to use one. Note the locations of extinguishers in your area. If you are responsible for a specific area, ensure that the extinguishers are fully charged. Also note the type of extinguisher and its proper use.

Before attempting to extinguish a small fire, yell for help. Sound a nearby alarm or ask someone nearby to do so.

To use an extinguisher, you must first remove the safety pin. Then aim the nozzle at the base of the fire and use large side-to-side sweeping motions. Never aim at the top of a fire. This will cause the flames to come back at you! Approach the fire from a safe distance and work toward it gradually. Portable extinguishers contain only limited quantities of extinguishing materials. They don’t last forever! So, remember to keep an exit at your back to avoid trapping yourself.

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