and manual fire control
By: Captain James Benjamin,
MS, CSHM, CFEI
Manual fire control is always the third and final option of the three
major methods of handling fire protection. Fire prevention is the
first and most prudent, followed by engineering controls that limit fire
growth and development, including automatic fire suppression equipment.
Fighting fires should always be the last option considered as part of
fire protection preparations. Even though it is a last resort, it
is an extremely important part of being prepared for fires. If manual
firefighting is required, the other preferred controls to preventing fires
have failed. This article will cover manual fire suppression efforts
by employees. It is not intended to deal with firefighting by fire
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) permits a wide
range of approaches to manual fire control by employees. All employers
should have emergency action and fire prevention plans (see 29 CFR 1910.38).
This plan covers notification about fires and other emergency, evacuation
of the facility, accounting for personnel, and shutdown of critical processes.
A fire prevention plan details the approaches of the organization toward
All manual firefighting involves some risk. To completely eliminate
this risk, some employers choose to have their personnel evacuate without
attempting to extinguish even small fires. This approach may be preferred
by organizations that have only a small potential for fires, or where fires
will tend to become fully developed in a short period of time.
TO FIGHT OR NOT TO FIGHT…
However, OSHA does not require live burn exercises. Refresher training
shall be provided on an annual basis. However, if a selected group
of employees are designated as permitted to use fire extinguishers, than
their training must be hands-on.
|If an organization decides to have employees fight fires, then one
or more of several options may be selected. These options are not
mutually exclusive. For example, an employer with an interior structural
fire brigade may also allow employees to use fire extinguishers.
If all employees are permitted to fight fires, then all personnel must
receive training on their duties and the proper use of extinguishers.
This training should be hands-on, so the employees have an idea of what
it is like to actually fight fires.
TYPES OF FIRE BRIGADES
Fire brigades are divided into two categories - the incipient and structural.
The incipient stage fire brigade is intended to control small fires and
the structural brigade, as the name implies, may fight fires of any size
and type. Both types of brigades require an organizational statement
that establishes the scope and organizational structure of the group.
This statement should also address training, equipment, and the functions
of the group. Standard operating guidelines must also be developed
that guide the actions of the brigade during emergencies.
An incipient stage fire brigade does not require special protective
clothing or equipment. Organizations that select this option are
primarily interested in the well-organized response that a team may provide.
These teams require annual training that must include hands-on practice.
Interior structural fire brigades add the dimension of specialized protective
clothing and other equipment. Members of this type of fire brigade
wear firefighting ensembles that are similar, if not identical, to what
the local fire department issues to its members, including self-contained
breathing apparatus. The extra burden of using this protective equipment
and the physical demands of interior structural firefighting require that
individuals who participate in this type of fire brigade have medical examinations
to ensure their physical capability to do this work safely. The interior
structural fire brigade requires quarterly training and at least some of
this training must be hands on (29 CFR 1910.156 (c)(2)).
|Again, these incipient teams focus on small fires that are discovered
early in their development (i.e., rubbish fires, fires confined to trash
cans, etc.). It is not uncommon to have a “one shot rule” established
with these teams.
Teams following this rule are allowed to try and control or extinguish
a fire through the use of one extinguisher, provided the fire department
or interior structural fire brigade has been notified first.
USE OF EXTINGUISHERS; GENERAL GUIDELINES
The most common manual fire control technique used in industrial and
commercial facilities is the portable fire extinguisher. The
following applies to extinguishers use in all situations and with all types
When an individual discovers a fire, there are two priorities that must
be completed. The first is to notify the people in the facility that
a fire condition exists. Life safety is always the primary concern.
The second priority is to notify the fire department.
I can tell you that from a fire department’s standpoint, it is much better
to arrive on scene and find that a fire has been extinguished than to arrive
and find a fire that has grown and spread because it was not reported until
an occupant had unsuccessfully attempted to extinguish the fire.
NOTE: even if you believe the fire has been extinguished it is better to
have fire department personnel check to ensure it is completely out and
that it has not extended to other areas.
||However, past experience has demonstrated that
this does not happen, especially when dealing with people who have been
trained on how to properly use fire extinguishers.
This behavior is very risky and should be discouraged during training.
Delays can often make substantial differences in the amount of damage and
subsequent loss caused by a fire. It is worth mentioning that sometimes
both of these priorities can be completed together through internal alarm
systems (i.e., pull stations or PBX systems).
After these priorities have been completed, the individual must evaluate
the fire situation and decide whether to fight the fire or not. This
decision is based on a number of factors. Is there an operable fire
extinguisher close to the seat of the fire? If no extinguishers are
present, logic would dictate leaving the area and waiting on the fire department
to arrive. Another consideration is the intensity and magnitude of
the fire. An individual should not risk personal injury by attempting
to control a fire that is too big or growing at a rapid rate. Again,
logic would dictate withdrawing from the area, waiting for the fire department.
If an individual determines it is safe to attempt to control the fire,
the next step is to deploy an appropriate fire extinguisher. The
extinguisher must be suitable for the class of fire to be controlled.
In general, there are four main classes of fire, these are (IFSTA, Fire
Inspection and Code Enforcement 6th edition):
Fire Class Material Symbol
Keep in mind that the contents of an extinguisher are stored under pressure,
so bringing an extinguisher to the fire SAFELY is more important than speed.
If the fire is inside a structure, it is important that the person who
is going to use the extinguisher position himself or herself so that an
exit is always at their back. That way, if the attempt to control
the fire fails, they are in excellent position for making egress from the
Class A Ordinary Combustibles Wood, paper, plastic, rubber Green
Class B Flammable Liquids Liquids, greases, gases Red square
Class C Live Electrical Equipment Energized electrical equipment
Class D Combustible Metals Aluminum, Magnesium, Titanium, Sodium,
Zirconium, Potassium, Lithium, Calcium, Zinc Yellow Star
The person with the extinguisher must prepare to fight the fire from
a comfortable distance, which should be a minimum of 10-15 feet away.
Prior to moving in to begin fighting the fire, the operator must check
the extinguisher to make sure it is charged and suited for the fire at
hand. The general operating instructions follow the letters P-A-S-S.
P – Pull the pin. This will break the plastic or thin wire
and allow the pin to be removed, which then allows the extinguisher to
operate. A test discharge should be conducted to make sure the extinguisher
is operating properly.
A – Aim the nozzle or outlet at the fire.
S – Squeeze the handle.
S – Sweep the nozzle back and forth at the base of the flames.
After the fire has been extinguished, the operator should back away
from the fire. That way the operator will know if the fire should
As stressed earlier, prevention is the best course of action when dealing
with fires. So work smart and work safe, but know how to react in
the case the unexpected happens!
About the author:
Benjamin is a career Safety Professional for a global chemical company
headquartered in Cincinnati. He is also a Captain on the Glendale
Fire Department, which is a historic residential community just North of
Cincinnati, Ohio. The Glendale Fire Department runs Automatic Aid
(on all structure related calls) with the Woodlawn and Lincoln Heights
Fire Departments in Ohio. James has served the Glendale Fire Department
since 1988 when at the age of 14 when he joint as a Cadet. At the
same age, James joined the Springdale Fire Department Explorer Post (Post
911). During his time as Explorer Post Chief, Post 911 was ranked
3rd in the Nation.
Captain Benjamin holds both
a Masters of Science Degree in Loss Prevention and Safety, as well as,
Bachelors of Science Degree in Police Administration with a minor in Fire
Protection Engineering Technology from Eastern Kentucky University.
He is also a National Registered EMT-B, a Certified Arson and Explosion
Investigator/Instructor, a Certified Safety and Health Manager, and an
active member of the Hamilton County Local Emergency Planning Committee
(LEPC). Captain Benjamin is also a member of the National Fire Protection
Agency (NFPA), American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), National Association
of Fire Investigators (NAFI), the Institute for Safety and Health Management
(ISHM), and the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA).
Prior to working as a Safety
Director, James was employed by Eastern Kentucky University as an Adjunct
Professor and taught courses in Fire Protection Engineering Technology
and Fire ground Command and Tactics.
In 1994 Captain Benjamin
received the Lincoln Heights Fire Department’s Heroism Medal for a double
rescue involving a man and his infant son who were trapped in a fully involved
apartment fire. James is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and currently
lives in Glendale.