From: David C. Finster <dfinster**At_Symbol_Here**>
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Fire extinguisher use in chem labs by instructors
Date: Sat, 5 Dec 2015 03:09:12 +0000
Reply-To: DCHAS-L <DCHAS-L**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU>
Message-ID: 7AB8F8BFE46C5446902F26C10EBF4AEAA28F3849**At_Symbol_Here**

Without disagreeing with anything written so far on this topic, I will add the following anecdote. (Slightly off-topic, too, but who cares?) We have all of our general chemistry students practice using a CO2 extinguisher on a small EtOH fire. Using a CO2 extinguisher is a little more visceral than a dry chem extinguisher, which is probably a good thing. With that background, a former student wrote to me...

"So, I'm sure you remember the time you taught us all to use a fire extinguisher in Chem 121. I remember being terrified because I had never put out a fire in my whole life and fire scares me. But I lugged that heavy thing across the floor and extinguished the heck out of the trash can fire. I was pretty proud of myself that day, but mostly glad I never had to do it again.

Until tonight.

As Ken and I were boiling water for pasta, our first home-cooked meal in our new condo, the stove burst into flames. Water generally isn't flammable, so I have no idea what happened, but the stove was on fire and Ken was standing there going, "How do I use a fire extinguisher!?"

I grabbed it, pulled the pin, aimed at the base of the flames, and WHOOSH, the fire was out and mono ammonium phosphate was all over our kitchen. We still aren't sure what caught fire (it's an electric stove, so my suspicion is that there was a spark and some grease/residue in the burner caught fire) but everyone is fine and our kitchen is intact (aside from being covered in powder).

Anyway, of course I thought of you and was very thankful to have been taught how to use a fire extinguisher. Now you can tell your 121 kids that THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT because one day, their stove might catch on fire and their spouse might stand there looking confused while you save lives."

Not as dramatic as Monona's episode, but a good outcome!


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

-----Original Message-----
From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**MED.CORNELL.EDU] On Behalf Of Ken Smith
Sent: Friday, December 04, 2015 10:38 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Fire extinguisher use in chem labs by instructors

For what it worth, we removed from our introductory training courses any reference to P.A.S.S. In my opinion without actually having a hands-on portion to FE training providing instructions or setting expectations that individuals are capable of safely fighting a fire in the incipient stage is foolish at best. This is for the reasons that Rob and Ralph indicated.

Instead we are using the R.A.C.E acronym: Rescue; Alarm; Contain; and the last E for Evacuate (not Extinguish).

I'd rather any day of year have all personnel accounted for in emergency assembly evacuation area with a fire still activity burning and spreading in the building than for a person to have injured themselves trying to fight a fire. Once the people are safe this is only a property claim.

Besides most modern era buildings will have fire suppression and control systems (sprinklers, smoke dampers, ejectors, etc.) that will contain, suppress, and if lucky extinguish a fire long before the FD is on scene much less ready for an entry.


University of California
Office of the President
Executive Director of EH&S
voice (510) 882-3499

-----Original Message-----
From: DCHAS-L Discussion List [mailto:dchas-l**At_Symbol_Here**] On Behalf Of Ralph Stuart
Sent: Friday, December 4, 2015 5:30 AM
Subject: Re: [DCHAS-L] Fire extinguisher use in chem labs by instructors

> > But they MUST be trained to make that fight or flight decision

In my experience, this is the big challenge. Most fire extinguisher training I have seen is a review of P.A.S.S. and perhaps a hands on chance to try it out. This misses out on the factors Rob enumerates on his web site about when to use the extinguisher. We had a grease fire in a dorm kitchen last semester and the student involved couldn't remember if the fire extinguisher available was water or dry chemical based, so she abandoned the situation and called the fire department. This was the correct decision, but some of the feedback she received suggested that she had mishandled the situation by not using the extinguisher.

Given the diversity of skills of the employee population in a lab setting, developing and maintaining the ability to make the fight or flight decision is a safety culture challenge rather than a training challenge. The CSB videos on research and teaching lab fires provide interesting examples of this.

- Ralph

Ralph Stuart, CIH

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