Treat a clothing fire with stop, drop, and roll

The standard advice for a clothing fire, even in a lab, is still to stop, drop, and roll. According to the National Fire Protection Association Code 45, “Standard on Fire Protection For Laboratories Using Chemicals,” A.

Laboratory personnel should be thoroughly indoctrinated in procedures to follow in cases of clothing fires. The most important instruction, one that should be stressed until it becomes second nature to all personnel, is to immediately drop to the floor and roll. All personnel should recognize that, in case of ignition of another person’s clothing, they should immediately knock that person to the floor and roll that person around to smother the flames. Too often a person will panic and run if clothing ignites, resulting in more severe, often fatal, burn injuries.

Fire-retardant or flame-resistant clothing is one option available to help reduce the occurrence of clothing fires. Refer to NFPA 1975, Standard on Station/Work Uniforms for Emergency Services, for performance requirements and test methods for fire-resistant clothing.

It should be emphasized that use of safety showers, fire blankets, or fire extinguishers are of secondary importance. These items should be used only when immediately at hand. It should be recognized that rolling on the floor not only smothers the fire but also helps to keep flames out of the victim’s face, reducing inhalation of smoke.

I realize that finding enough floor space in a lab to roll effectively might be a challenge. That’s why it pays to think ahead with your experiments: If you’re doing something that could result in a fire, think about where best to do it. Working in a hood next to a safety shower or open floor space would be a wise choice. You should also make sure there’s nothing else flammable nearby and that nothing is blocking paths to the exit or emergency equipment, such as that safety shower or a fire extinguisher. And wear a fire-resistant lab coat.

In a recent discussion on the ACS Division of Chemical Health & Safety e-mail list, some division members cautioned about using fire blankets. Fire blankets can be used to smother fires or to wrap around yourself if you need a shield to get past a fire. But do not wrap one around a standing person to extinguish a clothing fire, because doing so may create a chimney effect that serves to intensify the fire rather than extinguish it (Prudent Practices, section 2.F.2; Laboratory Safety for Chemistry Students, chapter 2).

And, as always, don’t work alone. If your clothing catches fire, you can drop and roll or step into the shower while your companion assists and calls for help.

Author: Jyllian Kemsley

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