Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep

Learning to extinguish fires the right way

It is an unusually warm day in November at the Taco manufacturing facility in Fall River, Massachusetts. A dozen Taco employees are gathered in a small, fenced-in area behind the main building, listening to Fall River Fire Inspector Jeff Medeiros discuss the basics of fire extinguisher use.

"You're going to want to pull the pin while the fire extinguisher is still on the ground," the 20-year fire department veteran explains. "Because no matter how strong you are, once you put pressure on the handle, you're going to have a hard time getting that pin out."

It is a small piece of advice that could mean the difference between a minor incident and a catastrophic loss—one tidbit of information that Medeiros supplies as part of his fire extinguisher training class.

Fire extinguishers are the first line of defense against fires at home and at work. Proper use of a fire extinguisher at the incipient stage can quickly douse small fires before they become major incidents, or contain a fire until firefighters arrive. They can also aid in keeping evacuation routes clear, allowing co-workers to get to safety.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires fire extinguisher training for employees on an annual basis. The training does not have to be hands-on, but Medeiros feels it's an invaluable part of the training.

"People walk by a fire extinguisher every day, but it's so important to have them put their hands on it," Medeiros explains. "After the training I ask people if they are comfortable using it and they say, 'Oh yeah, it's easy.' I ask them how they felt before the training and they say they would have been very apprehensive about using it."

Thanks to an FM Global Fire Prevention Grant, Medeiros has the equipment he needs to travel around Fall River, a city of nearly 100,000 people, offering this hands-on program. The equipment—a propane gas tank, burner, portable generator, compressor and four fire extinguishers—gives people an opportunity to handle a real extinguisher and use it to put out real flames. The grant has allowed Medeiros to provide training to more than 2,000 people in the past year, including visits to manufacturing sites, hospitals and office buildings.

The grant is offered to fire departments and community organizations to support a wide variety of fire prevention and preparedness programs. FM Global has awarded millions of dollars in grants across the United States and internationally. The grants (usually under US$10,000) have been used to help these organizations purchase smoke detectors, pre-fire planning software, educational material and a host of other items not embedded in their annual budgets.

Medeiros's stop at Taco was not by chance. Taco is a leading manufacturer of heating and cooling equipment, systems and accessories for residential, commercial and institutional buildings worldwide. They are also an FM Global client.

Taco, which employs more than 500 in two manufacturing sites, was grateful for the opportunity to receive the training.

"We do classroom training but I really want everyone to put their hands on it, pull the pin, feel the weight and feel how it sprays," said David Grof, Taco's safety and environmental director. "It's like going to Driver's Ed and watching the videos and listening to the lectures but never actually driving a car."

Having spent most of his career in health and safety, Grof remembers the days when fire departments would light pallets on fire to provide the extinguisher training. And Medeiros recalls floating gasoline on water and lighting it to get that hands-on experience. The new equipment certainly makes training easier. It is much more environmentally and user-friendly and allows a large number of people to be trained in a relatively short time.

Back in the lot behind Taco, employees huddle around Medeiros to get their final instructions. Over the course of the day, all 80 employees will run through the training. They are reminded of the acronym PASS: pull, aim, squeeze and sweep. As employees take aim at the fire, Medeiros activates the burner, which looks like a large camping stove. Each person's turn lasts only about 30 seconds, but for Medeiros, it is a valuable 30 seconds.

"These guys are in manufacturing, so they are used to working with tools," he said. "But for someone in an office, or nurses and people in human services who don't work with equipment, it's really valuable to have them get their hands on it."


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