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Fire Safety -  Protect your investment!

Just as you might encounter various types of fires in a home workshop, there are various types of fire extinguishers to control them.

CLASS A FIRES involve wood, paper and rubbish and require a “quenching/cooling” effect to be extinguished. Class A extinguishers typically contain water (sometimes with an anti-freeze of some sort) or foam. They are always liquid filled.

CLASS B FIRES involve flammable liquids such as grease, gasoline, oil and other flammable products and require a “blanketing/smothering” effect to be extinguished. Class B extinguishers contain a dry chemical of some sort.

CLASS C FIRES involve electrical current and require a “cooling” effect to be extinguished. Class C extinguishers typically contain Carbon Dioxide (CO2) to cool the fire temperature and put it out.

CLASS D FIRES involve flammable metals and their extinguishers are often designed to work with a specific type of metal. These fires are not common in a workshop environment.

Multi-class fire extinguishers (such as A/B/C) types have been proven effective on the three most common classes of fires. These A/B/C extinguishers dispense a powder that reacts with each type of fire to produce a cooling, smothering effect to kill the fire.

Halon extinguishers are also excellent on A, B, & C type fires. They contain a gas that produces a mixture of liquid and vapor to smother the fire. The chemicals in these extinguishers will not corrode metals like the chemicals in other types of extinguishers. Halon extinguishers should be aimed at the base of the fire and are only good at distances of 4 to 6 feet.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are the most effective on Class B & C fires. They “cool” the fires and are best when used at distances of 3 to 6 feet. Often, ice will form around the nozzle of these extinguishers during use. This is normal. Since these classes of fires can often re-ignite themselves, it's best to keep applying the extinguisher, even after the fire first appears to be out.

Older type Soda-Acid fire extinguishers should not be used. Typically, they are made of copper or brass with a small diameter rubber hose on the side or a pump-type handle. These extinguishers should be discarded by contacting your local fire department, since they have been known to explode.

Using Fire Extinguishers
There are four steps to the effective use of fire extinguishers - which can be easily remembered through the acronym -

PULL the safety pin at the top of the extinguisher that's used to keep the handle accidentally activated.

AIM the extinguisher's nozzle toward the base of the fire. Stand about 8-feet from the fire and

SQUEEZE the extinguisher's handle to dispense the extinguishing agent. Remember that releasing the handle will stop the dispensing of the agent.

SWEEP the extinguisher's nozzle back-and-forth across the base of the fire. Once the fire is extinguished, watch it carefully for a few minutes before walking away. Fires may frequently re-ignite.

Safety Cans for Flammable Liquids

Did you know that a single gallon of gasoline contains the explosive force of two or three sticks of dynamite? That's more than enough to destroy your workshop, your house, your garage and even cause serious personal injury and/or death.

If you store oil-based paints, stains, solvents and other flammable liquids in or near your shop, you need to be sure you're doing so safely. Here are a few of the important rules...most nothing more than common sense.

  • Nothing flammable near heat or spark sources such as furnaces, water heaters, stoves, etc.
  • Dispose of solvent-soaked rags properly and promptly...preferably outdoors where solvents will evaporate more safely. NEVER leave them laying around the shop.
  • Store flammable stains, varnishes and finishes in metal containers. If possible, store them inside a ventilated metal cabinet that's well isolated from other flammables such as sawdust, papers, lumber, etc.
  • Be sure there's plenty of ventilation whenever and wherever you apply finishes or use solvents...and that there are no open flames, sparks or heat sources nearby. Whenever possible, work outdoors.

These are, by no means, all of the rules of safety for working with and storing flammable finishes and solvents...just a good beginning.

However, before we finish, we do want to talk just a bit more about the most volatile of these materials...solvents. Mineral spirits, turpentine, lacquer thinner, denatured alcohol, and more. The list goes on and on to include some of the most highly flammable, noxious and notorious chemicals on the face of the earth. Thank Heavens, many of the others that used to be fairly commonplace have been outlawed!

So, what's one of the best ways to protect yourself from the hazards presented by these solvents? Metal Safety Cans. By their very nature, solvents are typically far more highly flammable than most paints and stains. For that reason, they should be handled more carefully.

These cans are available in a variety of sizes and configurations from one quart through five gallons in either round or rectangular shapes. There are three things they all have in common.

First and foremost, all have a spring-loaded cap that will release building internal pressures caused by expansion and the vaporization of the contents. The caps should re-close themselves automatically after venting and become liquid and vapor-tight.

Flash Arrestor
The flash arrestor is a screen-like device inserted into all openings of a safety can. This device prevents ignited vapors from entering the can and causing an explosion.

Strength & Stability
It's best to choose a durable, metal can that will be able to withstand more than normal abuse. Containers should not tip easily.

Aside from these characteristics, be sure the container you purchase is labeled “UL” or “FM”, signifying approval by a reputable testing laboratory.

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