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HOW TO RESOURCE: Shop Fire Safety

In this section, you will find the following subsections:

do you know the FOUR FIRE CLASSES?
maintaining your EXTINGUISHER
when should you NOT FIGHT a fire?


REMEMBER: that three conditions must be present to start a fire: these are 1)a source of fuel to sustain burn; 2)an oxygen supply to fan flames; 3)source of heat, such as a spark, for ignition.

Extinguishing a fire entails removing at least one of above conditions: fuel source, oxygen supply, or, depending on stage of fire, its ignition source.


There are certain obvious sources of fire ignition, things like matches, ignited cigarettes, sparks, even furnaces. Here are a couple of others:

A)One common cause of fire ignition in a workplace is friction.

TIP: friction can be generated by a clashing of bearings or moving parts, or improperly adjusted chains or belts, on equipment. A great way to dramatically lower incidences of friction in your shop is to properly maintain equipment and machinery!

B)Spontaneous combustion can and often does result in fire. This process refers to either a reaction between chemicals, or unintended oxidation, in potentially flammable materials.

Spontaneous combustion can occur when cloth rags or paper towels, or business forms or other paper products, become saturated by flammable liquids or solvents, and then are dumped into workplace garbage cans. When certain chemicals intermingle, the reaction can be equivalent to mixing those same chemicals in a laboratory test tube, hot enough to create combustion, sometimes even an explosion!

TIP: to prevent spontaneous combustion fire, discard your liquid soaked rags or papers(particularly those saturated by the mega flammable linseed oil) in metal safety can with a lid. If reaction between chemicals should occur inside can, lid will prevent fire from spreading, AND limit its oxygen supply, helping smother flames.


If you are unfamiliar with fire classes A, B, C, and D, here are brief overviews of each, and how best to fight them:

CLASS A: fire involves materials such as wood, paper, cardboard, fabrics, etc.

EXTINGUISHING: of Class A fire can be done with TAP WATER, or DRY CHEMICAL agents that reduce temperature of burning materials.

Class A FIREFIGHTING EQUIPMENT is identified by capital letter A inside a GREEN triangle.

CLASS B: fire involves flammable liquids, gases, and other chemicals.

COMMON EXAMPLES: include pump gas and diesel, natural gas, propane, acetylene, fuel oil, cleaning solvents, alcohol, turpentine, machine oils, cutting oils, tars and greases, oil based paints and lacquers, AND carbon monoxide.

EXTINGUISHING: of Class B fire should be done by SUFFOCATING it to remove oxygen source. Agents that work best for extinguishing are dry foams and chemicals, or carbon dioxide.

YOU CAN ALSO PUT OUT SMALL CLASS B FIRES: by smothering flames with blanket or fireproof container to limit available oxygen.

MEGA CAUTION: be aware that TAP WATER will have LITTLE EFFECT on a Class B fire; Class B fire will turn water into steam before it can inhibit flames. Because flammable liquids are frequently lighter in weight than water, they will also continue burning unimpeded on its surface.

Class B FIREFIGHTING EQUIPMENT is identified by capital letter B inside a RED square.

CLASS C: fire involves live electrical equipment like electrical panels and boxes, junction boxes, wall wiring, outlets and switches, electric appliances and power tools, plus machine electrical circuits.

Be on lookout for LOOSE ELECTRICAL contacts, DAMAGED wire insulation, FAULTY or BUSH LEAGUE installations, POORLY MAINTAINED equipment, and potentially OVERLOADED electrical circuits, any of which can procreate Class C fire.

EXTINGUISHING: of Class C fire must NEVER BE DONE by electrically conductive agent like tap water or water based solution! This can result in serious shock, or fatality.

Instead the extinguishing agent used on Class C fire must be NONCONDUCTIVE(it must resist the flow of electricity). It should also be able to penetrate the cracks and crevices frequently found in electrical equipment and circuitry.

Agents designed for use on a Class C fire are CARBON DIOXIDE, dry CHEMICALS, and HALON. Carbon dioxide is considered the best option because it has superior penetrating properties, does not require extensive cleanup afterwards, AND will not damage electrical equipment the way alternative agents can.

Class C FIREFIGHTING EQUIPMENT is identified by capital letter C inside a BLUE circle.

CLASS D: fire involves combustible metals like magnesium, titanium, zirconium, sodium, lithium, and potassium. Other metals like aluminum, iron, and steel can be combustible in some forms.

DID YOU KNOW? that though combustible metal Class D fires burn at far higher temperatures than other fire types, the metal chips and fine metal particles involved in a Class D fire can be ignited at relatively modest temperatures!

BECAUSE: combustible metals burn at such high temperatures, they will prove oblivious to the extinguishing agents like carbon dioxide that would work on other fire types.

Extinguishing agents that are WATER based should NEVER EVER BE USED on a Class D fire; they can cause a violent explosion, spreading flames and injuring persons. AGAIN NEVER use water or water based extinguishing agents on fire involving combustible metals!

EXTINGUISHING: of Class D fire must be done with a DRY POWDER compound. These compounds DIFFER from dry chemicals in that they are scooped or shoveled rather than sprayed onto flames.

Class D FIREFIGHTING EQUIPMENT is identified by capital letter D inside a YELLOW star.


Here are a few general rules to keep in mind:

A)To make best use of firefighting equipment, do some advanced planning; learn how to OPERATE your extinguisher(and TEST it periodically to insure working order). This way you will not forfeit valuable time fumbling with instructions while fire rages.

PREPARATION IS ALSO IMPORTANT: because fire extinguishers contain limited amount of firefighting agent. Most extinguishers will discharge all contents in from 15 to 60 seconds; being familiar with firefighting equipment will allow best, most thorough use of agent!

B)Portable extinguishers must be readily available WHEN(and WHERE) fire happens.

This means: 1)installing your extinguishers in CLEAR VIEW; 2)installing them IN PROXIMITY to potential fire hazards; 3)being certain that extinguishers contain the PROPER type of FIREFIGHTING AGENT for fire hazards they will face; 4)being certain extinguishers contain ENOUGH AGENT to adequately comb an area.

C)The proper NUMBER of extinguishers must be installed for given fire area.

REMEMBER: that an average fire extinguisher will cover an area of 2 x 4 square feet or less; therefore even a modest sized warehouse will require MORE THAN ONE extinguisher.

D)Before attempting to fight fire, consider its size, AND rate of spread.

WHY ARE THESE FACTORS SO IMPORTANT? because most extinguishers are designed for use ONLY on fires in the insipient or beginning stage. This means: 1)fire is CONFINED to area of 2 BY 4 SQUARE FEET or less; 2)that flames are UNDER 2 FEET in height; 3)that fire is producing LOW LEVELS OF SMOKE.

CAUTION: remember that once fire has surpassed beginning or incipient stage, you CANNOT SAFELY use portable extinguisher to fight it. Instead area should be immediately EVACUATED and fire department notified.

E)Before attempting to combat fire, choose escape route and exit you will take if evacuation becomes necessary! This will help you avoid being trapped.

F)Evaluate fire to gauge the direction in which flames are moving; approach it from opposite direction. This will help you avoid having your escape route cut off.


Here are a series of steps you can apply to many portable extinguishers:

A)Remove extinguisher from wall.

B)Grasp extinguisher handle and pull safety pin.

C)Free the hose; aim nozzle at fire.

D)Squeeze handle.

E)Move nozzle in sweeping back and forth motion until flames have been subdued or extinguisher is empty.

TIP: remember the firefighting keyword PASS; 1)P for pull PIN; 2)A for AIM; 3)S for SQUEEZE trigger; 4)S for SWEEP hose!


Following are some general things you should remember about firefighting:

A)Start spraying agent at distance of 20 feet from fire; if flames are especially high, stand 30 feet from fire. Close in as flames decrease in size.

REMEMBER: that 30 feet is maximum range of most portable or handheld fire extinguishers. If heat from flames is too intense to allow you within 30 feet, fire is already beyond stage at which it can be safely fought with portable equipment!

B)Direct spray stream at base of flames, the area of fire which is hottest; this will result in most rapid cooling and fire control.

C)Sweep hose from side to side; if it is safe, circle flames until fire has been put out, or the extinguisher discharged.

D)Cover smoldering(glowing) areas thoroughly; if necessary, try breaking them apart with implement like rake or shovel to dissipate heat more quickly.

E)Never abandon fire till you are positive it has been completely extinguished. Partially extinguished materials can reignite in an instant if they receive sufficient oxygen.


Remember the following:

A)Portable fire extinguishers should undergo complete maintenance check every 12 months. Many extinguisher models require pressure testing every 5 years; read instruction manual for your model for specific instructions.

B)Inspect fire extinguishers every 30 days, verifying that: 1)extinguisher remains IN DESIGNATED PLACE, in proximity to potential fire hazards; 2)extinguisher is CLEARLY visible; 3)extinguisher can be EASILY REACHED, is not blocked by debris or obstacles; 4)operating instructions are LEGIBLE and facing OUTWARD; 5)extinguisher has not been DISCHARGED(you can often check simply by gauging weight of extinguisher); 6)extinguisher has not SUSTAINED DAMAGE that would affect nozzle or interfere with its proper operation; 7)PRESSURE GAUGES are in operable range; 8)maintenance and recharge dates are WITHIN acceptable parameters.

REMEMBER: as you are checking firefighting equipment, not to neglect the battery operated SMOKE DETECTORS in your shop or work area; smoke detectors should be tested according to recommendations of manufacturer.

IN GENERAL: plan on replacing smoke detector BATTERIES on yearly basis; to be safe, it is best to replace detector if it becomes damaged, or appears in any way to be dysfunctional.


Sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry, or heroic. If any of the following conditions apply to you, it may be best to reconsider firefighting duties:

A)Do not fight fire if you are not trained in proper use of an extinguisher!

B)NEVER fight a fire that has passed beginning or incipient stage(for explanation see above subsection WHAT SHOULD YOU CONSIDER WHEN USING A FIRE EXTINGUISHER?).

C)Do not attempt to fight fire if you are by yourself and it is too large for single person to handle safely.

D)Do not attempt to fight a fire that is spreading rapidly; this is a good way to get yourself trapped.

E)Likewise never stop to fight a fire if your escape route is in danger of becoming blocked.

F)Leave fire and get out if extinguisher proves faulty, OR appears ineffective against flames.


A)Workplace(or home!) evacuation procedures should be discussed, provided to people in print, and for best results practiced in fire drills!

B)If a fire alarm sounds, assume that it is the real thing and beat it.

C)Never waste time trying to gather things before you leave a fire area.

HERE ARE A COUPLE OF EXCEPTIONS TO JUMPING UP AND LEAVING IMMEDIATELY: 1)if possible, you may want to shut off running equipment, BUT only if it can be done quickly; 2)shutting windows and doors as you exit can sometimes inhibit the amount of oxygen available to a fire; BUT remember not to lock windows or doors. This can hinder firefighting, AND search and rescue efforts later on.

D)Keep low to floor as you escape to avoid airborne smoke and toxic gases.

E)If you must, cover nose and mouth with a damp cloth to assist breathing.

F)Never open a closed door in burning building without first feeling its surface. REMEMBER that flames can flare up through an opened door and cause severe burns.

Feel door surface with the BACK OF HAND rather than palm. If door feels warm to touch, remember that it will be HOTTER on other side. BEST BET is to find another escape route!

G)NEVER use elevator in burning building. If you need to use stairway, proceed down to ground level rather than up to roof.

H)Never enter a building that is on fire. You never know how dangerous the conditions inside will be. Fire department personnel have the special training and equipment necessary to confront such situations.

I)If your own clothing catches fire, DROP to ground, and ROLL to smother flames. If the clothing of someone you are with catches fire, try to IMMEDIATELY WRAP that person in a blanket, rug, or carpet to help smother flames.

Need Help? Call 866-613-9115
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