Practical Training Improves Use of Fire Extinguishers

Practical Training Improves Use of Fire Extinguishers


The Volunteers Corner

From time to time, a training session in using portable fire extinguishers on live fires is advisable not only to improve the capability of new fire fighters, but also to sharpen the competence of the more experienced men.

If your training area does not have oil pits, 250-gallon and 1000-gallon oil tanks, split in half, make acceptable substitutes. The smaller tank is a good choice for giving new men their first experience with extinguishers, and the larger tank provides a more challenging fire for the older hands. When the two halves of a 1000-gallon tank are placed side by side, there will be enough fire area for basic training with 1 1/2-inch fog lines when fuel with a flash point above 100°F is used.

Before putting fuel in tank halves, first partially fill the containers with water and then let the fuel float on top. No. 2 fuel oil is ideal for training fires, but where cost is a problem, other fuels can be used. Crankcase drainings are usually easy to obtain for nothing, and sometimes a local industry has fuel that has to be thrown away. Giving it to a fire department solves a disposal problem. My own department for many years obtained JP-4 and JP-5 fuel from a company that had to dispose of the fuel after running it through aircraft fuel pumps it manufactured.

Generally tank halves are placed on the ground, but they can be raised 3 or 4 feet above the ground to simulate dip tanks in a factory. However they are placed, they must be securely put in position to eliminate the possibility of an accidental upset.

Train with inside fire: If you have a training building in which you can have fires, then by all means do some training with extinguishers indoors. Half of a 55-gallon oil drum, split lengthwise, will provide all the fire you need. The quick buildup of heat from an indoor fire adds a valuable degree of reality to extinguisher training. It is one thing to use an extinguisher outdoors with wind at your back, but you are in a totally different situation when attacking a fire indoors with an extinguisher. Inside, there is no escape from the heat, and the men will quickly realize that rather large fires that can be extinguished outside with a 30-pound dry chemical extinguisher cannot be approached close enough for extinguishment inside.

At the start of the training session, caution the men about the danger of flashback from flammable liquid fires

in metal containers that have been heated by the fire. Make them back away, ready to use the extinguisher again, after putting out the fire.

Also, the start of the extinguisher discharge, particularly carbon dioxide and even dry chemical, should be directed to one side of the pan and then moved to the fuel surface. This will lessen the danger of a fuel splash from the sudden initial release of the extinguishing agent.

Alert new men to expect a cloud of flame when dry chemical is first applied to a fire, and inform them of the possibility of a static electricity charge being built up in the horn of a carbon dioxide extinguisher when in use. The surprise when the horn touches metal and a slight shock is transmitted to a man’s hand can be startling. The danger is that he might drop the extinguisher.

Limited discharge times: One of the important results that should be obtained in extinguisher training is an acute awareness of the limited discharge times. For portable extinguishers, such as those carried on fire apparatus, these discharge times are measured in seconds. You can expect a steady stream from a pressurized water extinguisher to last 40 to 60 seconds. Dry chemical extinguishers of 30 pounds capacity will provide a steady application for about 25 seconds, and 15-pound carbon dioxide extinguishers have up to 30 seconds of operational time.

Therefore, your training should emphasize the desirability of shutting off an extinguisher the moment the fire is out so that, hopefully, there will be some extinguishing agent left for use on any flashback. An intermittent discharge will take care of any flashbacks as they occur. Men need practice in determining how soon they can stop using an extinguisher on a fire, and this is one of the reasons why such training should be conducted more often than it sometimes is.

Any dry chemical left in an extinguisher pressurized by a cartridge can be saved for future use by bleeding off the pressure before recharging. Just turn the extinguisher upside down and open the valve slightly. This should be done outside because at first a slight amount of dry chemical will be cleared from the inside tube, hose and nozzle. Then only gas will emerge until the pressure is bled off. The cylinder cover can then be opened to add the needed amount of dry chemical.

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