Date: Sat, 5 Sep 2009 15:31:36 -0400
Reply-To: "David C. Finster" <dfinster**At_Symbol_Here**WITTENBERG.EDU>
Sender: DCHAS-L Discussion List <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU>
From: "David C. Finster" <dfinster**At_Symbol_Here**WITTENBERG.EDU>
Subject: Re: Extinguishers and gloves
Comments: To: "Dr. Jay A. Young"
In-Reply-To: <FD85B5CC2CD94D84A0C1AA6DCBE4C788**At_Symbol_Here**chemical6df00a>
DCHAS folks,

I find John Nail's argument below sound and thoughtful.  I, too, have been a chemistry professor (28 years) and volunteer firefighter (15 years) and feel qualified to comment upon the use of a fire extinguisher in a lab.  

The first rule is:  save thyself, and those around you.  Fight a (small) fire with an extinguisher only if you feel qualified to do so, putting neither yourself nor others at significant risk.  Large, raging fires cannot be extinguished with an small extinguisher regardless of the skill and training of the user.  Small fires can often be extinguished; it is situation-dependent.  

Hands-on training is best, for sure, but read the side of any extinguisher:  PASS:  PULL the pin, AIM the extinguisher, SQUEEZE the handle, and SWEEP across the base of the fire.  If it were irresponsible to allow an untrained person to use a small extinguisher, the warnings against such action (which do NOT appear on the extinguisher) would be in very large print.  Indeed, the simplicity of the four steps invites use by the untrained.  An ABC extinguisher works amazingly well (and leaves a lovely mess of white powder which is easier to clean up than a fully-destroyed lab).

Assuming that the report below is accurate, I agree with John: what is OSHA thinking to cite an institution for failure to train employees to use devices that are designed to be used by the untrained?  Shame on the local FD for removing the extinguishers; rather, they should have worked with the institution on training, if that's what they wanted.


David C. Finster
Professor of Chemistry
University Chemical Hygiene Officer
Department of Chemistry
Wittenberg University

-----Original Message-----
From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU] On Behalf Of Dr. Jay A. Young
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 11:28 AM
To: DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**LIST.UVM.EDU
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Extinguishers and gloves

Sorry John, but you are not quite right.

Indeed, in your case it is obvious that you are well-qualified to use fire 
extinguishers when there is a fire in the lab.

But I must take issue with your conclusion which comes close to assuming 
that everyone else is as well qualified to use fire extinguishers as you 

In my rather extensive experience, most professors of science, even 
professors of chemistry, are simply not qualified to use a fire 
extinguisher.  And in a fire if the fire extinguisher-user does not know how 
to use that tool, the he or she often in their use of that extinguisher will 
enhance, not reduce, the severity of the fire.

Jay Young

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "List Moderator" 
Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 10:20 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Extinguishers and gloves

> From: "Nail, John" 
> Date: August 13, 2009 10:15:21 AM EDT
> Subject: RE: [DCHAS-L] Extinguishers and gloves
> Let me see if I have this straight -
> A researcher uses an extinguisher to put out a lab fire.
> An OSHA investigator cites the institution for lack of documented 
> extinguisher training, despite the obvious fact that the researcher  was 
> able to successfully put out the fire.
> The local FD begins to remove extinguishers from the labs.
> My suggestion about putting out trash can fires was in regards to the 
> OSHA training issue. BTW- when I was at another university, all  Chemistry 
> department personnel were required to use an extinguisher to  put out an 
> oil fire during the annual safety training.
> As a trained firefighter, you can be as angry as you want to over the 
> idea that 'untrained' (unwashed?) people dare to put out fires. As a 
> trained chemist who has worked extensively with pyrophoric materials,  I 
> am angry over your attitude that lab workers should not be allowed  to 
> extinguish small lab fires. As an educator, I would not let  students use 
> flammable liquids in a lab unless an extinguisher was  available for me to 
> use in any incidents.
> This idea of 'remove safety equipment because lab personnel are too 
> stupid/untrained/untrustworthy to use it properly is condescending,  and 
> frankly, leads to an attitude that gets people killed.
> What EVERYONE needs to recognize is that there is a significant 
> difference between a small hood fire and a major building fire.  Whomever 
> first discovers the small hood fire should put it out if they  can do so 
> safely, and yes, those of us who have handled dangerous  materials, know a 
> thing or two about working safely. And, no, I would  try to fight a large 
> fire. Yes, someone has to use their judgment when  assessing the 
> situation.
> Whether the issue is extinguishers in lab areas or freshman chemistry 
> students wearing gloves, the key question is 'do we teach how to  assess 
> risks and use the PPE and safety equipment that is appropriate  to that 
> risk or do we give students a mindless set of rules?'
> In regards to the 'this is how its done in industry' argument, yes, I 
> have been in industry. Industry and academia are two very different 
> cultures. People in industry have different motivations than do people  in 
> academia. Industry and academia are not valid comparisons.
> It's easier to create rules than to think.
> John Nail
> Professor of Chemistry
> Oklahoma City University

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