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Health & Safety Manual - Fire Safety

Fire Safety and Emergency Response to Fires and Explosions

4.1 Introduction

Research laboratories differ from other work environments in that they usually contain a variety of fire hazards. In addition to the ‘ordinary’ (Class A) fires, those fueled by wood, paper and textiles; hazards include the presence of flammable and volatile solvents such as petroleum distillates that are not miscible with water; reactive metals such as sodium and potassium; flammable metal powders such as magnesium, titanium, and zirconium; metal hydrides such as lithium hydride, lithium aluminum hydride and sodium borohydride; as well as many kinds of electrical equipment.

Complications arise when fighting these fires because each type of fire must be fought with the extinguishing agent and procedure appropriate for it; the use of the wrong technique or extinguisher can be catastrophic. EH&S has simplified fire‑fighting in the laboratories by recommending laboratories be equipped with multi‑purpose (ABC) dry chemical fire or CO2 type extinguishers, which can be used on all types of fires with the exception of reactive flammable metals (which must use extinguishers suitable for the particular metal). Laboratory workers must be trained in the RACE and PASS procedures outlined below. Annual fire drills reinforce this training. Fire extinguishers are inspected monthly and tested annually. If a fire extinguisher in any laboratory, chemical storeroom, or nearby location requires inspection or recharging, call Facilities Operations at CUMC (212)305-7367 or EH&S at Morningside (212)854-8749 to replace. A monthly inspection of the fire extinguisher pressure gauge by laboratory personnel is strongly recommended as a further safeguard to ensure the extinguisher is properly charged.

Before attempting to extinguish, the fire must first be judged as being controllable by laboratory personnel.  This depends on the judgment of the person making the decision and the factors involved: the size, intensity of the fire, the nature of the burning material, proximity of other flammable or explosive materials, availability of escape routes, availability of proper fire‑fighting equipment, and the safety of personnel in the area.