By Fred Goodnight, President of the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (FEMA)
Each week, fire extinguishers save lives and property in all facets of life – in the home, in the car, in retail businesses, and at work. Sometimes the story doesn’t strike us as monumental when there are just a few individuals involved or when the fire incident has a happy ending. However, when we hear of fire in places of large gatherings, it tends to strike a different chord.
Here is a story about how a fire extinguisher stopped a small fire from quickly becoming a tragedy that could have claimed the lives of hundreds.
It was a Monday night this past May at Las Palmitas, a restaurant in Coeur D’alene, Idaho when a fire broke out in its lounge filled with a crowd of 200 customers that night.
Police and fire officials say that someone set a pinata on fire around 10:45 p.m. during Cinco de Mayo festivities. The decoration went up into flames and the fire spread up to the planter that the pinata was hanging on.
A customer notified the bartender that there was a fire in the restaurant, and, fortunately for all those there that night, the employee reacted quickly by running over with a dry-chemical fire extinguisher and putting out the fire within minutes.
Deputy Fire Chief Dan Cochran was quoted in the Spokesman-Review as saying “It could have been a catastrophe. The place was packed.”
“He had the forethought to grab an extinguisher. That drives home the point of why we require extinguishers – they were able to knock down the fire before we even got there,” said Cochran.
It was found that a customer had started the fire with a lighter or match. Damage to the restaurant was estimated at $2,400 mostly from smoke.
The bartender’s fast decision to use a fire extinguisher was the difference between no deaths and injuries and what could have been a tragedy similar to what happened at a Rhode Island night club recently.
Last February, a fire, lit by the band Great White’s pyrotechnics, quickly spread through a Rhode Island nightclub. In minutes, the club was filled with smoke and flames to create a fiery nightmare for those inside. For many, there was not enough time to evacuate the building. One hundred people were killed and 200 more were injured.
Although not every fire can be captured in the early stages, the Idaho restaurant story is a good example of how fire extinguishers can be an effective and safe means of extinguishing fires in the early stage. When successful, fire extinguishers preclude the use of an automatic sprinkler system and sometimes the arrival of the fire department. What we do know is that balanced fire protection saves lives and property.
According to NFIRS, NFPA Survey statistics for 1991 – 1995, fire extinguishers were credited for extinguishing a significant number of fires in nine types of occupancies than any other method listed (except pre-connected hose off of an apparatus on an average annual basis).
- In public assembly, extinguishers suppressed 4,876 of the 17,528 fires reported annually or 27.8%.
- In educational facilities, extinguishers suppressed 2,387 of the 8,058 fires reported annually or 29.6%.
- In institutional facilities, extinguishers suppressed 3,608 fires of the 10,793 fires reported annually or 33.4%.
Fire equipment manufacturers and their distributors during extinguisher training exercises always stress the importance of turning in an alarm and evacuating the premises first. Only after setting the first two steps in motion should an individual attempt to extinguish a fire and then, only if they have a safe exit and feel comfortable making the attempt.
This Idaho fire is just one example of a fire extinguisher saving lives. This story and many others are reported in the media each week and continue to prove that fire extinguishers are a critical part of any balanced fire protection plan. But in order to be effective, fire extinguishers must be up-to-date, and regularly monitored and maintained. In addition, those individuals attempting to extinguish a small, contained fire should have proper training and understanding as to how it should be operated.
For more information about fire extinguishers and how to operate one, visit www.fireextinguisher.com, or for an overview of fire extinguishers as part of a balanced fire protection plan, visit www.yourfirstdefense.com.
For educational materials about these topics and other fire prevention issues, contact the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association (FEMA) at 216-241-7333.