Act First Safety

The Importance of Fire Extinguishers in Early-Stage Fires
The Devastating Consequences of Fire

Residential fires account for 73% of all fire-related fatalities in Canada. Fires that occur in offices can be equally devastating resulting in the loss of life, jobs, property and information. It can lead to business interruption or even permanent closure.

According to the most recent NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) data, in 2010 U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,331,500 fires. These fires resulted in 3,120 civilian fire fatalities, 17,720 civilian fire injuries and an estimated $15,478,000,000 in direct property loss.

Of these fires 98,000 were responded to in commercial or municipal buildings. Of the over $11.6 billion in property damage, more than $2.6 billion took place in these non-residential structures. This represents an average loss per reported incident in non-residential / commercial structures of over $34,000.

Chapman Ice Cream Factory Fire, 2009

Some business fires make the news and can affect whole communities. There are many examples, including the note-worthy Chapman’s ice cream factory fire in 2009 which occurred during an expansion project, where it was found that a welder’s spark initiated the fire that finally demolished the entire plant in the small rural town of Markdale, Ontario. As the main employer of 350 workers in the community, the Chapman case is a success story as they rebuilt the company in a year and a half all the while distributing their product. Clearly, it was the dedication and tireless effort of the Chapman family to make the decision to rebuild and it’s a great story. But, prevention should be at the forefront to avoid these devastating situations from occurring to small businesses in the first place.

Importance of Fire Prevention for Business

Our businesses are combustible places where we store hazardous chemicals and where we perform work that can cause fires such as welding and other hot work. Early detection of fire situations and making sure that the appropriate equipment is on hand to extinguish a fire early should be the focus. The proper use and worker training on fire safety equipment such as fire extinguishers is key. Safe use and practice of fire extinguishing equipment by workers insures the best outcomes in fire emergency situations.

The Survey Says…
A survey conducted in 2002 by EUROFEU (European Committee of the Manufacturers of Fire Protection Equipment and Fire Fighting Vehicles) in 6 European countries found that in over 2,600 incidents recorded that in 81.5% of cases the portable fire extinguisher successfully extinguished the fire and in 74.6% of the cases the fire department was not required to attend.
A similar study in 2002, highlights the effectiveness of extinguishers in the early stage fire fighting. FETA (Fire Extinguishing Trades Association) and IFEDA (Independent Fire Engineering and Distributors Association) in the UK reviewed over 2100 fire incidents and found that in 80% of the cases a portable fire extinguisher successfully extinguished the fire and in 75% of those cases, the fire department was not required to attend.
Fire Extinguishers Effectively Put Out 80% of All Fires

When the results of the European studies are extrapolated to the US market, it is estimated that in approximately 80% of all fire incidents a portable fire extinguisher is the only fire fighting tool needed to extinguish the fire. Further, it is estimated that in 60% of all fire incidents the fire department is not notified (and thus the event would not appear in NFPA statistics).

Fire Extinguisher Success Rates (US – Estimated)

• Fires handled entirely by extinguishers with fire department not being notified = 1,997,250
• Commercial structure fires handled entirely by extinguishers with fire department not being notified = 147,000
• Estimated savings in avoided property loss in commercial buildings = 147,000 X $34,000 equals $4.998 Billion
• Fires in which fire extinguishers were the only needed form of fire suppression = 5,326,000
• Fires in commercial structures in which extinguishers were the only needed form of fire suppression = 392,000

Although these are only estimates, these numbers make clear that the impact of fire extinguishers is tremendous. When fire extinguishers are not available to do their job because they are blocked, missing or depressurized, or when workers are not adequately instructed with fire extinguisher training, the results can be deadly, catastrophic and costly.

Case for Worker Fire Extinguisher Training

Given the prevalence of early detection and termination of fires in the workplace, a case can be made for hands-on demonstration training of workers in the correct use of portable fire extinguishers. Workers receiving and correctly demonstrating the use of fire extinguishers in fire extinguisher training is an important component of any workplace fire prevention strategy. In fact, fire extinguisher demonstration training builds confidence in the correct use of this life-saving equipment while also building life skills that can be used off-the-job where there is also the potential for fire and where prevention is key, but where the fire extinguisher may have to be handled effectively.

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