A fire needs three ingredients to start: Heat, fuel and oxygen. This is known as the fire triangle and removing just one of these ends a fire. While this equation may seem simple, fire hazards exist at all times. This is why preventing fires is critical and being prepared in case one starts is crucial to saving property.
In the U.S. in 2020, fires caused an estimated $21.9 billion in property damage and fire departments responded to a fire every 23 seconds, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). These fires range from homes and structures to natural wildfires, but they all have three things in common: Heat, fuel and oxygen.
Fire classes. Fires are categorized into four classes — A, B, C and D — depending on what catches fire and what can be used to extinguish it. Materials that can cause each class of fire are routinely found in the equipment and event rental industry.
Class A: Includes ordinary solid combustibles such as paper, wood, cloth and brush. These fires can be extinguished by using water.
Class B: Includes flammable liquids such as oil, gasoline and grease. Class B fires can be extinguished by smothering, such as putting a lid over a container to remove the oxygen from around the fire.
Class C: Includes circuits and electrical equipment. Any liquids that conduct electricity will make these fires worse. A fire extinguisher rated for Class C fires is the best option to put these out.
Class D: Metallic substances are commonly found in Class D fires. This includes magnesium found on vehicle parts and components. Fires in this class can be extinguished using dry dirt or sand.
Fire extinguishers. Fire extinguishers are one of the best options for putting out a fire. As mentioned above, Class A, B and C fires are put out in different ways, but an ABC fire extinguisher can put out any of these with the same tool. Special fire extinguishers are made for Class D fires.
A fire extinguisher contains the following parts:
- High-pressure cylinder – holds the propellant gas and dry-chemical extinguishing agent.
- Pressure gauge – shows the charge on the extinguisher and if it is ready for use.
- Pin and flag seal – secures the handle to ensure it is not discharged accidentally.
- Handle and operating lever – squeezed to release the extinguishing agent.
- Nozzle – aim the nozzle at the base of fire when the handle is squeezed.
When operating a fire extinguisher, the acronym PASS is helpful to remember the steps of Pull. Aim. Squeeze. Sweep.
- Pull the pin in the handle.
- Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the handle and operating lever slowly.
- Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire.
In every building, whether commercial or residential, it is important to locate and evaluate the fire extinguishers. Also, be sure to understand your needs based on fires that may be encountered in your operation.
Chemical and electrical fires. Chemicals are used throughout the equipment and event rental industry. Whether this is gasoline or diesel, oils, hydraulic fluids, cleaning agents or other chemicals, it’s nearly impossible to miss them in a rental operation.
One of the leading causes of fires in the rental industry, according to ARA Insurance, is the improper disposal of rags with chemicals on them. These can spontaneously combust at any time. Rags should be stored in metal trash cans with lids or metal self-closing rag disposal bins. Also, chemicals need to be used according to the written recommendations of the manufacturers. Any mixing of chemicals could have severe consequences.
Electricity and extension cords. Another leading cause of fires in the rental industry is faulty electrical and issues arising from extension cords and surge protectors. While using extension cords is a common practice to get power where it is needed, there are key points to remember when using these:
- Use cords properly rated for the job. Extension cords have a rating based on the amperage they can safely carry and the wattage they can handle. The key for choosing the correct cord is determining the wattage and amperage drawn by the tool that will be connected to the cord.
- Check that extension cords are in good condition. Cords with insulation damage, frayed wires or cracked plugs need to be removed from service until they are properly repaired and not simply wrapped in electrical tape. Using damaged cords could lead to penalties from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- Extension cords are not permanent power. While it is convenient to pull an extension cord into any area you need power, this also can lead to OSHA penalties. OSHA allows extension cords to be used for a maximum of 90 days. After that, a more permanent solution is required.
- Watch for trip hazards. Pulling an extension cord may be easy, but it’s important to watch where it is laying. Any cords across walkways should be used with a proper cord or cable ramp. This will prevent cord damage, trips and falls while also reducing fire risk.
- Do not tie extension cords together. When an extension cord is needed, use the correct length rather than connecting cords together. According to ARA Insurance, another common cause of fire claims is tying multiple extension cords and/or surge protectors together to reach a power source.
Fire risk can be lowered in a rental operation by using safe electrical practices, following OSHA regulations and maintaining quality fire extinguishers, but a sprinkler system also should be an item to consider. A sprinkler system can help extinguish a fire and often automatically alert emergency services and building owners of a fire. Many fires take place after hours when nobody is around due to combustible chemicals or wiring issues, so a sprinkler system also can be seen as a loss prevention and risk management tool.
To assist your operation with fire safety resources, the American Rental Association (ARA) offers free courses through RentalU, ARA’s online education platform. “Fire Extinguisher Safety Training” guides you and your employees through fire safety, fire extinguisher use and the fire triangle. There also are other courses that can be assigned to your employees around electricity, flammable liquids and more. To view these ARA-member-only resources, login at ARArental.org/rentalu.