Answer: It depends…
Typically we think that water will work to put out a fire, but that is not always the case. What if there is an electrical fire? Water probably isn’t the best solution to use on your computer or other electronic equipment; it will most likely do more harm than good. Not only could water destroy your electrical equipment making it unusable, but the water could also conduct electric shocks harming the people trying to put out the fire. In addition, did you know that adding water to a Class D fire fueled by combustible metals can actually make the fire worse?
Hopefully, you won’t encounter a fire, but if you do…you should be prepared! Prevention is the best form of fire safety, so it is important to train your employees if fire risk is high or at least designate fire safety leaders if there is a low fire risk. Learning how to prevent fires and contain small fires could prevent the fire from spreading and becoming a real disaster.
It is also important to know the fire evacuation route. Usually office buildings will have the evacuation route posted; if not you should request one from the building manager. If your building is on fire, you should know the best escape route so that you can quickly get to safety. There should be someone appointed that will do a walk-through to make sure everyone has evacuated and no one is in danger. Practicing fire drills is a common habit in office buildings as well as schools and other highly populated buildings. A practice fire drill should help inform employees what to do in case of a real fire danger.
Fires require heat, oxygen, and fuel to exist. Eliminating one of these three components will put out the fire. Let’s review 4 classes of fire, as defined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), that are adopted in the United States. I will review Class A, Class B, Class C and Class D fires, and I will also discuss the best way to extinguish each Class of fire and why water may not always be the best solution.
Fueled by: paper, trash, wood, cloth, rubber, etc.
Best to extinguish with: water
Fueled by: flammable liquids, greases, and gas
Best to extinguish with: liquid foam
Why not water: a solid stream of water can cause the fuel to scatter which will spread the flames
Fueled by: burning wires, electrical fires, and energized electrical equipment
Best to extinguish with: carbon-dioxide based extinguishers
Why not water: water can damage equipment and conduct electricity causing electric shock
Fueled by: combustible metals (sodium, titanium, magnesium, etc.)
Best to extinguish with: copper-based dry powder or sodium chloride
Why not water: water can make Class D fires worse! Water helps fuel these fires.
Note: This is not the entire list of fire classes as defined by the NFPA, but it includes the most common classes. In addition, Europe and other countries have their own set of guidelines and fires classes that differ from the United States.