The ABCs of Fire Extinguishers by Harry J. Oster

To effectively and safely extinguish a fire, one should always use the correct type of fire extinguisher. In Columbia University laboratories, the two most common types of fire extinguishers provided are ABC (Fig. 2) or BC (Fig.3).
Fire extinguishers are identified by letter classification (Fig. 1), as follows:
A= Combustibles, B= Flammable Liquids, C=Electrical, D= Combustible Metals, K= Cooking.  Extinguishers with combinations of these identifiers are suitable for all of the corresponding types of fires.
Fig. 1


To use any fire extinguisher, remember the acronym “PASS” (Pull, Aim, Squeeze and Sweep); these instructions are often also located on the extinguisher decal. More importantly, when using an extinguisher, remember to keep your back towards the exit; in the event the fire is not controlled, you can safely leave the area. Stand initially about 4 to 6 feet away from the fire to discharge the extinguisher; as the flames diminish, you can then safely approach to completely extinguish the fire. Remember, a typical ABC extinguisher will provide less than 30 seconds of firefighting capacity. If you cannot extinguish a fire with a single ABC extinguisher, follow the “RACE” procedure: Rescue anyone in need, Alarm; pull the fire alarm, Confine the fire by closing doors as you leave, and Evacuate. Once you’ve reached a safe location, contact Public Safety with relevant information about the fire.     

Fig. 2 Fig. 3
fig2 fig3

Academic Machine Shop Safety Update by Jim Kaznosky

EH&S has been working closely with shop supervisors from various academic departments to reinforce University-wide machine shop safety practices. The Academic Shop Safety Work Group, established to complete this task, has developed a broad policy that requires machine shop users to follow basic safety rules, and to complete both general shop safety and machine-specific trainings prior to using any equipment. Shop supervisors are implementing this program and ensuring that each user is provided appropriate training. Access to an academic shop will not be permitted without completion of the necessary training, or if it is found that a user has violated safety rules.
For further information and to specifically review the revised policy. visit the Shop Safety web page @

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