Toolbox Topic: Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers save countless lives every year. In today’s episode, we will cover some essential safety tips for handling fire extinguishers.
Definition of Fire Extinguisher
A fire extinguisher is a cylinder filled with a dry or wet chemical. When activated, the extinguisher discharges an extinguishing agent through the nozzle. The handheld device is designed to put out small fires quickly, preventing the spread of fire.
History of Fire Extinguishers
Man has been trying to extinguish fires as long as fire has existed. The earliest known and simplest “fire extinguisher” was created in ancient Rome, where buckets of water were used to extinguish flames during emergencies.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, a funny invention called the “squirt was used to extinguish fires.” It was made up of a nozzle that you dipped into water, and by pulling out the plunger, you could draw water up, and then by pushing down the plunger, the water was expelled onto the fire. This method was utilized during the Great Fire of London in 1666. (The History of the Fire Extinguisher)
Fire Extinguishers in the 18th Century
The modern concept of the fire extinguisher began in the 18th century. 1723 Ambrose Godfrey invented a portable fire-extinguishing apparatus known as the “fire engine.” It consisted of a hand pump filled with water and compressed air. This invention marked a significant milestone in fire extinguisher history, providing a more practical and effective method of extinguishing fires.
In 1818, George William developed the first modern fire extinguisher, made of a copper vessel utilizing a combination of pearl ash (potassium carbonate) solution and compressed air. This marked the first use of a chemical agent to suppress fires.
Fire extinguishers in the 19th Century
Throughout the 19th century, various inventors and scientists experimented with different extinguishing agents and mechanisms, which led to the development of specialized fire extinguishers for specific types of fires, such as the CTC (Carbon tetrachloride) fire extinguisher designed for electrical fires.
Over time, advancements in technology led to the development of more sophisticated extinguishing methods, including the chemical foam extinguisher in the late 19th century and the modern ABC dry powder fire extinguisher, the most commonly used type of extinguisher.
Modern Fire extinguishers
In the early 20th century, introducing carbon dioxide (CO2) as an extinguishing agent revolutionized fire safety. CO2 extinguishers became widely used for electrical and flammable liquid fires, as they are non-conductive and do not leave a residue. Later advancements led to the creation other types of fire extinguishers, such as dry powder, foam, and water mist extinguishers, each tailored for specific fire hazards.
Today, they are essential in safeguarding against fires caused by electrical equipment, flammable liquids, combustible materials, and more. Fire extinguishers have become integral to fire safety in homes, workplaces, vehicles, and public spaces.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), on average, 3,340 office properties experience fires yearly, resulting in 4 deaths, 44 injuries, and $112 million in direct property damage. (gitnux.com)
Top causes include faulty electrical, cooking, housekeeping, and accumulation of combustibles - meaning people let paper, cardboard, and other materials pile up.
Fire Extinguisher Safety Tips
Safety Tip #1: Types of fire extinguishers
Knowing the types of fire extinguishers available and their specific uses is important. Use the appropriate type of extinguisher for the fire. There are four classes of fire extinguishers – A, B, C, and D – and each class can put out a different type of fire.1a
- Class A extinguishers will put out fires in ordinary combustibles, including wood, cloth, rubber, paper, and many plastic materials.
- Class B extinguishers are used on flammable liquids like grease, gasoline, solvents, lacquers, alcohol, oils, and other similar substances.
- Class C extinguishers are suitable for use only on electrically energized equipment fires.
- Class D extinguishers are designed for flammable metallic substances like potassium and sodium.
- Multipurpose extinguishers can be used on different types of fires and will be labeled with more than one class, for example, A-B, B-C, or A-B-C. The class of fire extinguishers is found on the extinguisher’s side label.
Safety Tip #2: Fire extinguisher location
Familiarize yourself with the location of fire extinguishers in your workplace. Fire Extinguishers should be mounted, identified, and located in an area that is easily accessible to employees.
Safety Tip #3: PASS
Know the acronym PASS: Pull the pin, aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the handle, and Sweep side to side.
Safety Tip #4: Regular Inspection
Fire extinguishers should be inspected annually by an outside contractor and tagged. Extinguishers should be visually checked once a month – examine for any physical damage, that the arrow is in the green, and that they are correctly mounted.
Safety Tip #5: Training
Attend fire extinguisher training sessions to ensure you understand proper handling techniques. Only use a fire extinguisher if you have been trained to do so.
Safety Tip #6: Prioritize Personal Safety
In case of a fire, prioritize your safety and evacuate if the fire is spreading rapidly or becoming uncontrollable. Only attempt to extinguish a fire if it is safe to do so. Maintain a safe distance from the fire and position yourself with an escape route behind you.
Safety Tip #7: Exit Plan / Fire Drills
Have an evacuation plan and perform fire drills regularly so everyone knows what to do and where to go.
Safety Tip #8: Report
After using a fire extinguisher, report the incident and have the extinguisher recharged or replaced.
1910.157 - Portable Fire Extinguishers. (2019). Occupational Safety and Health Administration. www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1910/1910.157.
Fire Extinguisher. (2023) https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_extinguisher#:~:text=A%20fire%20extinguisher%20is%2
Fire Safety in the Office: Keeping the Kitchen Safe. Frontier Fire Protection, (2019). www.frontierfireprotection.com/fire-safety-in-the-office-keeping-the-kitchen-safe/.
History of Fire Extinguishers. (2011) www.firesafe.org.uk/history-of-fire-extinguishers/.
National Fire Protection Association. “NFPA. (2019). www.nfpa.org/.
The Fire Extinguisher: A Brief History. (2021). https://aaafirepro.com/2021/12/the-fire-extinguisher-a-brief-history/