Fire is a curious and dangerous thing. It is easy to find yourself mesmerized staring into a campfire on a cool, fall evening. But that same fire that can keep you warm, could also completely destroy the office you live in or the house you call home. That’s why we stress fire safety so much here in the US.
Much of what we talk about in terms of fire safety deals with prevention and what to do in the event you are caught in a fire. We also talk about things like fire extinguishers. When you step back and look at it from a big picture point of view, you discover there is an awful lot that goes into fire prevention and response.
In terms of fire extinguishers, they are only one small component in overall fire safety. So what role do they play? How important are they at home; how important are they in commercial settings? Let us unpack that.
Fire Extinguishers Are Responsive
Fire extinguishers are designed to be responsive objects. In other words, a fire extinguisher sits passively out of the way until a fire actually breaks out. It is only then that it has any purpose. In the event of a fire, someone grabs the extinguisher and does his/her best to put out the fire.
In this sense, fire extinguishers are appropriate for both residential and commercial settings. There isn’t a structure on earth that couldn’t benefit from the presence of at least one fire extinguisher. On the other hand, we are all very aware of what can happen when a fire breaks out and those in the general vicinity do not have the tools to deal with it. A small fire can quickly rage out-of-control.
Understand that there are fire extinguishers for all fire types. Dry powder fire extinguishers are among the most common. There are fire extinguishers that utilize CO2, chemical agents, foams, and even water to put out fires. All of these options become important when you are talking about fire safety in a commercial setting.
Fires in Commercial Buildings
Commercial buildings may not necessarily be any more prone to fire than residential homes, but they can create more serious circumstances when fires do break out. As just one example, the reason fire suppression systems are required in many public buildings is the simple fact that large numbers of people tend to gather in those spaces. Lots of people could be injured or die in the event a fire is not extinguished.
Another issue for commercial buildings is the presence of potentially dangerous materials and chemicals. A manufacturing facility might be especially at risk if some of the chemicals utilized in their processes are highly flammable. In such a case, a small number of hand-held fire extinguishers would probably not be enough to deal with a serious fire.
Fire suppression systems in commercial buildings must, therefore, be designed accordingly. For example, you wouldn’t install a water-based suppression system in an environment where flammable chemicals that do not dissolve in water are present. Water would only spread the chemicals and the fire.
This is where choosing the right fire extinguishers is so important. Those charged with fire safety have to choose extinguishers appropriate to the surroundings. Some will choose foam; others will choose powder. It all depends on the risks posed by that particular environment.
Fires in the home
Residential fires are the bigger concern for most of us. House fires are the ones that make the news. They are the ones that remind us that fire takes lives. In light of what we know about house fires, it just makes sense for every home to have at least one fire extinguisher. Multiple fire extinguishers are an even better idea–at least one for each floor.
Fire extinguishers are especially important in single-family homes not built with sprinklers. That accounts for a fair majority of US housing stock. Without a fire suppression system, a fire extinguisher might be a family’s only hope of escaping a dangerous house fire.
In a residential setting, the first place to install a fire extinguisher is the kitchen. Believe it or not, 60% of all house fires begin in the kitchen. So if you are going to have a fire extinguisher at home, the most logical place to put it is in the kitchen.
Remember, fire extinguishers are responsive devices. So along with every fire extinguisher should be multiple smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. They save lives as well.
Fire extinguishers are important tools for responding to fires. But they are only one small component of overall fire safety. Make a point of understanding how they work, then learn everything else you can about fire safety.