Fighting fire with knowledge

Fighting fire with knowledge

How well do you – or your safety professionals – know fire? What causes it? How does one fight it successfully? This test will reveal all …

1. Name the three elements of fire. Describe how this knowledge can assist us in fighting fires.
The three elements that must be present in any fire are oxygen (air), heat and fuel. Remove any of these and the fire will be extinguished. Pouring water on the fire will remove the heat. Blanketing a fire with sand, foam or a chemical will exclude the oxygen. Cut off the fuel supply and the fire will extinguish itself.

2. List the main causes of fire.

1. Electrical faults
2. Open flames
3. Heated surfaces
4. Matches and cigarettes
5. Spontaneous ignition
6. Chemical reactions
7. Static electricity
8. Friction
9. Lightning.

3. Describe how static electricity is generated and explain its attendant dangers.
Static electricity is generated by the contact and separation of two dissimilar materials sliding over each other. For example, static electricity is generated when a fluid flows through a pipe or from an orifice into a tank. The principal hazards created by static electricity are those of fire and explosion, which are caused by spark discharges containing sufficient energy to ignite any flammable or explosive vapours, gases or dust that are present. In addition, the shocking of personnel may cause an involuntary reaction, such as falling, which may lead to an injury.

4. Describe why water or foam fire extinguishers should not be used on electrical fires.
In electrical fires one must assume that electricity is present at the source of the fire. The water and foam discharged by such fire extinguishers are both conductors of electricity. Thus, the person operating the fire extinguisher may receive an electric shock.

5. Explain where and how fire extinguishers should be located for ready use in an emergency.
Extinguishers should be placed close to the likely fire hazards, but not so close that they may be damaged or cut off from use by sudden fires. They should be located outside entrances to danger areas, never inside where they may become inaccessible. Extinguishers should be placed in conspicuous places. If hung from large columns or posts, distinguishing red and white bands can be painted round the posts, or symbolic safety signs can be mounted above the extinguishers. Large signs can also be posted, directing attention to extinguishers not readily visible.

Do not paint extinguishers with colours that will camouflage them. If an extinguisher is not marked clearly and plainly to indicate the type of fire or material for which it is designed, sign cards should be placed on the wall close to the place where it hangs.

6. Describe the monthly visual checks that should be carried out on fire extinguishers.
A responsible person should be trained and appointed to conduct regular (monthly or weekly) inspections of fire extinguishers. A record should be kept of checks and entered in a register. These inspections do not replace annual services.

The following checks should be carried out on all types of extinguishers:
• Check demarcation, accessibility and location;
• Visual inspection of cylinder for corrosion, mechanical damage (dents), paint condition and hanger attachments;
• Check nozzle for blockage, dirt, dribbling and corrosion;
• Check breather for blockage (open with pin or thin wire) where applicable;
• Check rubber hose and coupling (where fitted) for deterioration and damage.

7. State how often fire extinguishers should be inspected, maintained and  tested.
The regularity with which fire extinguishers should be  inspected/tested would be dictated by circumstances. For instance, an acidy or  damp environment would induce corrosion and necessitate action much sooner.  But, generally speaking, the SABS recommendations should be used as a minimum  standard.

This is an extract from “The Study Guide for Safety Co-ordinators: Basic Workplace Safety in a Nutshell”. It is an Institute of Safety Management (IOSM) official study guide for the advancement of professional safety practice, technology and management, and is distributed by the Safety First Association.

Published by

SHEQ Management

SHEQ MANAGEMENT is the definitive source for reliable, accurate and pertinent information to guarantee environmental health and safety in the workplace.
Thelma Pugh, MD of Federated Employers Mutual, has had a 24-year career with the company.
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