Lessons Learned: Unreported Fire in a Laboratory

Unreported Fire in a Laboratory

Fire extinguisher.What Happened:

During a recent fire and life safety inspection, a discharged fire extinguisher was discovered in a laboratory. The laboratory staff indicated that a fire had occurred several months earlier during a test tube sterilization procedure. The fire was the result of a researcher intentionally lighting residual ethanol left within the test tubes. This quickly got out of control and ignited the plastic rack holding the test tubes. The researcher then moved the flaming test tube rack to the ground and extinguished the fire using the adjacent extinguisher. Because the fire was extinguished, the researchers did not call 911.

Why do we report every fire, even extinguished fires?

1. If you had a near miss, there’s a good chance that someone else might make the same mistake. Fire Prevention (FP) tries to share incident information (without naming the specific lab/department or individuals), with others who may experience the same problem. Hopefully, they can learn from your incident and avoid having a similar situation where someone may be injured.

2. If the incident involves a piece of equipment, FP also tries to research the equipment and determine if there may be a recall or reports of similar problems with that specific equipment. This may help pay to get damaged equipment replaced and, again, if others on campus are using similar equipment, we try to share as appropriate so that they can be aware of a possible safety issue.

3. Fire Prevention monitors all incidents for patterns of repeated safety issues occurring as we are made aware of fire/explosion incidents. This also allows us to provide support/education in preventing similar issues from occurring in different locations across campus. If incidents go unreported, we lose the ability to learn from them and share pertinent information with our colleagues.

4. If you used a fire extinguisher to put the fire out – it needs to be replaced immediately with a fully charged extinguisher. Someone else may need that extinguisher the very next day or week for their own safety.

5. And finally, because for all of the above reasons – it is campus policy (PPM Section 390-40)

Please dial 911 to report every fire, even extinguished fires. But be sure to make it clear that you are reporting an “extinguished” fire so that the fire department can respond appropriately.

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