Elements of a fire extinguisher training program
Answered by Simon Balint, CAO, BullEx Digital Safety, Troy, NY.
Fire extinguisher and fire safety training are critical components of a comprehensive work safety program. Each fire extinguisher training program should be tailored to the specific realities of a given worksite and adjusted within each organization for different groups of personnel, depending on the threats they face. Still, a complete program should include, at the very least, several common elements covered through both classroom and hands-on instruction:
- Describe the basic sources of fire and various ways of stopping the combustion process. Fire is a chemical reaction that occurs when fuel, oxygen and an ignition source combine. Fire extinguishers work by removing one or more of these sources, with different extinguishers working in different ways.
- Describe the types (classes) of fires and the extinguishers that should be used in each situation. Many fire extinguishers are designed for use on specific types of fires. Using a fire extinguisher that does not match the class of fire at hand can actually increase the fire hazard, and endanger both the user and those around him or her.
- Focus on assessing and measuring fire risks. Because portable fire extinguishers are designed for incipient stage firefighting, employees should be familiar with how to properly assess a fire situation. Considerations used in making a "fight or flight" assessment include the size and location of the fire; levels of heat, smoke or fumes; and the availability of sufficient egress routes.
- Ensure employees understand how the use of fire extinguishers fits into the overall emergency response protocols for your organization. Many response plans require that the first step in a fire situation is to provide an alert. The familiar PASS technique (pull, aim, squeeze, sweep) of fire extinguisher usage could be modified to APASS – with "alarm" (yelling "fire," calling safety personnel or pulling an alarm) as the first true action step.
- Most important, train employees on the operation of fire extinguishers. Nothing compares to actual practice. Hands-on training is by far the most successful way to familiarize someone with extinguisher usage. Watching a video or providing a classroom demonstration is no substitute for seeing a fire, reaching for an extinguisher, pulling the pin and squeezing the trigger yourself. Most employees who haven't actually used an extinguisher are amazed at how little discharge time one has. A standard 10-pound ABC extinguisher provides just 20 seconds of discharge. Training not only builds confidence, it also breaks down overconfidence. Hands-on training helps employees further assess risk and appreciate the limits of portable extinguishers.