On Monday evening (August 22nd), Ridge VFD educators were asked by St. Mary’s College of Maryland to teach their new group of Resident Assistants (RAs) about fire extinguishers and fire safety. Very often, major catastrophes can be avoided through the proper use of a portable fire extinguisher. They are intended to be used during the “incipient stage” of a fire (just started and/or is small) when the extinguisher can minimize damage and promote life safety. With proper training and education, fire extinguishers can save lives and property.
The objectives of our fire extinguisher training were to:
• Describe the various classes of fires and determine the appropriate portable fire extinguisher to extinguish each.
• Ensure knowledge of extinguisher locations.
• Describe and demonstrate use of the PASS method in employing a portable fire extinguisher on a fire.
• Discuss firefighting decision criteria.
The RAs were briefly taught about the Fire Tetrahedron; the four things required for combustion = Fuel, Oxygen, Heat, and Chemical Chain Reaction. Removing any one of these four aspects will stop a fire. The extinguisher can cool material below its ignition temperature, remove the oxygen from the process (smother), or interrupt the chemical chain reaction.
Being able to properly identify the fuel burning in a fire is essential in choosing the proper portable fire extinguisher to do the job. The letter on the extinguisher corresponds with which class of fire the extinguisher is best suited for. For instance, an ABC extinguisher is best suited for use on Class A, B, and C fires. That said, the RAs were advised that they may only have one type of extinguisher provided (multipurpose).
Types of Fires, Classes, and Agents:
• Class A: Fire is fueled by an ordinary combustible material, such as wood, plastic, paper, cloth, rubber, household trash. Agent = Water, Foam, Dry Chemical, Clean Agent
• Class B: Fire is fueled by any flammable liquid or flammable gas such as gasoline, propane, natural gas, oil, oil-based paints, solvents. Agent = Dry Chemical, Carbon Dioxide, Foam, Clean Agent
• Class C: Fire is fueled by any electrically charge equipment (arching or overheating), such as energized appliances, outlets, circuit breakers, lighting fixtures, electronic devices. Agent = Dry Chemical, Carbon Dioxide, Clean Agent
• Class D: Fire is fueled by a combustible metal, metal powders, flakes or shavings, such as magnesium, potassium, aluminum, titanium, zirconium. Agent = Dry Powder
• Class K: Fire is fueled by cooking oils and cooking greases. Agent = Wet Chemical
Knowing where fire extinguishers are located and what class they are is the first step in fighting the small fire. Extinguishers are typically strategically located throughout a building based on the class of fire. The RAs were advised to make sure extinguishers are readily accessible and are mounted for ease of recognition and use. Many Fire Codes require extinguishers to be located at an exit door. This allows persons to evacuate or, if safe, to obtain the extinguisher and begin to fight the fire without being trapped in a room or area. Know where they are in your area!
For proper extinguisher use, the students were taught to remember the word P.A.S.S.:
P = Pull the pin on the fire extinguisher handle. This unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge the extinguisher.
A = Aim the nozzle/horn of the extinguisher at the base/bottom of the fire. Hit the fuel. If you aim at the flames the extinguishing agent will fly right through without stopping the fire.
S = Squeeze the handles together to make the extinguisher work. Releasing the lever will stop the discharge.
S = Sweep the extinguisher from side to side as if using a broom. Start using the fire extinguisher from a safe distance (6-8 feet) then slowly move forward if possible. Once the fire is out, keep an eye on the area in case it reignites.
We then explained to the students that once an extinguisher has been used (even if the plastic tab has been broken in anticipation of use but no agent expelled), have the extinguisher inspected, serviced, and recharged. DO NOT put a “used” extinguisher back on its rack or hook.
A brief discussion on firefighting decision criteria was held. In this, the students were asked to consider and understand:
• School/dorm emergency procedures and evacuation routes
• Do not delay calling 911 in order to extinguish a fire
• Always sound the alarm regardless of fire size
• Avoid smoky conditions
• Ensure area is evacuated
• Don’t attempt to fight the fire unless:
- Alarm is sounded
- Fire is small and contained
- You have safe egress route (can be reached without exposure to fire)
- Available extinguishers are rated for size and type of fire
• If in doubt, evacuate! Know when to evacuate if the fire exceeds the capabilities of the extinguisher. If you have any doubt about the ability to successfully fight the fire, evacuate immediately.
RVFD educators advised the students to ALWAYS position themselves with an exit or means of escape at their back before they attempt to use a fire extinguisher to put out a fire. In case the extinguisher malfunctions, or something unexpected happens, they need to be able to get out quickly and not become trapped.
In addition, they were taught to NEVER fight a fire if:
• You don’t know what is burning
• The fire appears too large to handle with one extinguisher
• The fire is spreading rapidly beyond the spot where it started
• You don’t have an adequate or appropriate fire extinguisher
• You might inhale toxic smoke
• Your instincts tell you not to
Aside from fire extinguisher use, students were reminded to NEVER ignore a fire alarm. Topics stressed included:
• Leave the building immediately. Be sure to close doors behind you (a closed door will prevent the spread of fire and hot gasses throughout the building.)
• Use protected stairways to exit the building. Do not use the elevator.
• Once outside, move to a predetermined area away from the affected building. Keep streets and walkways clear for emergency responders.
• Do not reenter the building until directed to do so by an authorized official.
Ridge VFD encourages citizens to contact us, or their local fire department, if they would like fire extinguisher training or have any questions.