From: Monona Rossol <actsnyc**At_Symbol_Here**>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Fire extinguisher use in chem labs by instructors
Date: Fri, 4 Dec 2015 10:11:13 -0500
Reply-To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Message-ID: 1516d8c0b15-4693-19a24**At_Symbol_Here**
In-Reply-To <99080534A99D89479A51A4EB6489672E05FB0461**At_Symbol_Here**>

Michael's advice to talk to an attorney is a good one.   

I have a different philosophy on this for theater and art departments.  I want EVERY teacher and student trained in how to use an extinguisher.  It is a skill they just might need when they are at home, in their own studios or shops, or in some other situation.  Over the 45 years I have lived on the top floor of this ridiculously overpriced walk-up tenement in NYC, there have been 5 serious fires. There is a big, yearly-checked extinguisher in my kitchen. And how I wished I had had it during one of those fires.

This fire was set by someone on the landing just under the roof.  I fought it with buckets of water my husband handed to me from the bathroom while hot lead rained on me from the melting solder of the skylight and standing on a floor so hot it was hurting my feet through the soles of my shoes.  We clearly were not going to win this battle, but we held it down until the Mercer Street Fire Department got there.  They said if we had not done this, the entire roof would have been lost.

Now was this the smartest move to make?  I leave it to you.  But I'm still in my rent controlled heaven with a relatively unleaky roof over head.  And I knew if the fire got out of control, we only had to retreat into the apartment and go down the street side fire escape.

(If you wonder why my husband didn't fight the fire, the fire exploded into flame so fast that we had no time to prepare.  My husband was shoeless and burned his feet on hot hall floor.  I was wearing shoes at the time.)

You can't tell what kind of circumstances people encounter in life.  I'd prepare everyone to use an extinguisher along with an unambiguous written policy in the 1910.38 OSHA emergency plan stating that evacuation is the preferred option and that evacuation is mandatory if there is any danger that a) the fire will get out of hand and b) there is not an obvious plan B escape route.

And pardon me if I have misinterpreted this conversation and many others on this same subject over the years, but there seems to two subtexts that are always present and unspoken.  These are 1) how to reduce the amount of training required and 2) how to CYA.   Maybe instead, we all could also consider that some of our students may end up in NYC or some other slum and need all the survival skills they can get.

Monona Rossol, M.S., M.F.A., Industrial Hygienist
President:  Arts, Crafts & Theater Safety, Inc.
Safety Officer: Local USA829, IATSE
181 Thompson St., #23
New York, NY 10012     212-777-0062


-----Original Message-----
From: Michael D Ahler <mahler**At_Symbol_Here**HANCOCKCOLLEGE.EDU>
Sent: Fri, Dec 4, 2015 5:38 am
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Fire extinguisher use in chem labs by instructors

Meg, et. al.

I don't know where or whether it is in any regulatory citation, but many years ago I had a local fire Captain tell how his department treats fire extinguishers installed in a workplace.
I got the distinct impression that his was a minority opinion rather than anything required in writing.
His answer to your question (why are they there?):   The fire extinguishers are there for use by the fire fighters that arrive on the scene and find a "fightable" fire in progress in the room.  This is one of the reasons the extinguishers are customarily installed next to or near an entrance/exit door.   His position was that no regular employee should choose to fight a fire but evacuate instead.  

NFPA (who doesn't rule on employee/employer behavior) does provide instruction and training advice for anyone wishing/needing to use an extinguisher.   
OSHA (who does rule on employee/employer behavior) has apparently given you the option of not training users of (and not using) extinguishers placed in your buildings.
The UFC/UBC does require that the extinguishers be there.  
I can appreciate your quandary.

I am entertained by your choice of the word "behoove".  I suspect you were thinking "required" without writing it down. There is at least an ethical answer and a legal answer to your questions: (Are we obligated by law to train employees in the use of fire extinguishers and are they then required by law to use them when the need arises?)

Good Samaritan laws and Duty to Rescue laws vary a little from state to state (and vary wildly around the world).

You need to talk to a local attorney.  A Wisconsin attorney will have the best advice about what the requirements are in Wisconsin.  If Western Technical College has an in-house counsel, that's where you should start.  If not, I speculate that the College has a local attorney on speed dial for those occasions when legal advice is needed.

Before I retired from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, (I had already been teaching evening chemistry classes at Hancock for for a while) I was the CHO, working for EH&S, which was part of Risk Management at that time.  Questions of liability, risk, loss prevention, disaster preparedness and emergency response were common topics in our office at the time.

Thanks for listening.

Michael Ahler
Part-Time Faculty Member
LPS (Chemistry)
Allan Hancock College

From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**] on behalf of Osterby, Meg [OsterbyM**At_Symbol_Here**WESTERNTC.EDU]
Sent: Thursday, December 03, 2015 4:53 PM
Subject: [DCHAS-L] Fire extinguisher use in chem labs by instructors

Hello all,
I am part of our college's safety committee and there has been a discussion ongoing in the committee about OSHA's requirements for availability and use of fire extinguishers in the workplace.  Some of the information we have found suggests that the option to not provide extinguishers, or train anyone to use them, is okay by OSHA.  However, in LaCrosse, the local fire codes require extinguishers to be present.  So the question is, if they are present, does it behoove us to train lab instructors (shop instructors, cooking instructors, etc.) in their use, and if we do, are those persons with the training required to use the extinguisher, if appropriate?  And, since we have to have the extinguishers, but one of the OSHA options we've been told is to train no-one and forbid their use, would that apply to chem teaching labs?  And if it does, why are they there?  I understand that as a chemical professional it is my duty to be knowledgeable and trained in the appropriate safety procedures for any chemical we use, but is that a legal requirement, and if it is, does it need to be in the person's job description?  And if so, how would that relate to fire extinguisher use?  If the college requires me to use one, does it need to put that in my job description?  The OSHA rule seems to make it clear that if they require that, they have to provide regular training, but beyond that, I'm lost.
Does anyone know how this works, and what the law requires our college to do?  We have been looking at a PP document we found on-line, which I've summarized the pertinent info from into a Word document, that I'd be happy to forward off the list-serve.  Frankly we are really confused.  Any help would be appreciated.
Thanks much,
Meg Osterby
Lead Chemistry Instructor
Western Technical College
400 7th St. N.
LaCrosse, WI 54601
"It's  better to be careful 100 times, than to be killed once." 
                                                    Mark Twain

Previous post   |  Top of Page   |   Next post

The content of this page reflects the personal opinion(s) of the author(s) only, not the American Chemical Society, ILPI, Safety Emporium, or any other party. Use of any information on this page is at the reader's own risk. Unauthorized reproduction of these materials is prohibited. Send questions/comments about the archive to
The maintenance and hosting of the DCHAS-L archive is provided through the generous support of Safety Emporium.