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This is National Fire Prevention Week

October 8, 2012

By George Cook, VT AgrAbility Project

The week of Oct. 7–13 is National Fire Prevention Week. This  year the theme is “Have 2 Ways Out”. This is especially important on a farm.

A fire on the farm is a farmer’s worst nightmare, and often it brings significant emotional and economic damage to a farming community.  In the last five years alone, fire departments have responded to more than 100 barn fires statewide. The most common cause of barn fires in Vermont is heating equipment, which includes portable heaters, sparks from chimneys, from other buildings or heat lamps.

To prepare for the unexpected, everyone on the farm should plan for an emergency. Know your emergency procedures and evacuation routes.  Always have two ways out. Know the locations of extinguishers and how to use them.  Always sound an alarm, regardless of fire size. Avoid smoky conditions. Ensure the area is evacuated.

Don’t attempt to fight a fire unless the fire is small and contained and you have sounded an alarm on your farm. In addition, be sure you have a safe escape route that can be reached without exposure to fire and available extinguishers are rated for this size and type of fire. If in doubt, evacuate and call 9-1-1!

Never try to put out a fire if you have no safe escape route, you don’t have adequate or appropriate equipment or you don’t have the correct type or large enough extinguisher. You also should leave rather than fight a fire if you are at risk of inhaling toxic smoke, your instincts tell you not to or if the fire has spread significantly.

Because barns are so highly combustible, the time available for fire suppression is very limited. The very first thing to keep in mind is that at no time should anyone put their own personal safety in jeopardy.

A barn fire can develop very fast. It only takes three to four minutes for a fire to fill a barn with smoke. Evacuating animals or removing equipment from a barn fire can be extremely challenging, time- consuming and actually impossible in some cases.

Portable fire extinguishers apply an extinguishing agent that will either cool burning fuel, displace or remove oxygen or stop the chemical reaction so a fire cannot continue to burn. When the handle of an extinguisher is compressed, it opens an inner canister of high-pressure gas that forces the extinguishing agent from the main cylinder through a siphon tube and out the nozzle.

For a fire extinguisher to be effective, the extinguisher must be right for the type of fire. It must be located where it can be easily reached and be in good working order. The fire must be discovered while it is still small. The person using the extinguisher must be trained to use it properly.

The three most common types of extinguishers are water, carbon dioxide (CO2) and dry chemical. Pressurized water is used for Class “A” fires only or combustible materials like wood, paper and trash.  It extinguishes by cooling burning material below the ignition point.

The CO2 extinguisher is used for Class “B” or “C” fires, which are flammable oils and electrical fires. It extinguishes by smothering burning materials. The most common is the multi-purpose dry chemical type, which can safely be used for all three classes of fires. It extinguishes by smothering burning materials.

To properly use an extinguisher, follow these four steps of the  P.A.S.S. method:

Pull the Pin.

Aim low at the base of flames.

Squeeze the handle.

Sweep side to side.

The final rule is to always position yourself with an exit or means of escape at your back before you attempt to use an extinguisher to put out a fire. In case the extinguisher malfunctions, or something unexpected happens, you need to be able to get out quickly. You don’t want to become trapped.

Before the unthinkable happens, call your local fire department and invite them out for an on-farm tour and to complete a Farm Fire Pre-Plan Data Sheet to have on file.

The Vermont Barn Fire Prevention Task Force, a working committee of farmers, firefighters and staff from University of Vermont (UVM) Extension, the Vermont Division of Fire Safety and other organizations, is continually developing resources to support  Vermont’s agricultural community and farm families to address ways to prevent barn fires. The various resources currently available (some are translated into Spanish), as well as 4 episodes of Across the Fence are all available on this website.

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