Fighting a fire

Active fire fighting should only be attempted if it is safe to do so, you have a means of escape and feel confident you know how.

Training

Learn what to do before a fire.

Fire wardens

Training for Fire Wardens is free for staff. Learn more: Building and fire warden training.

Active fire fighting

The training is important, as using the wrong sort of fire extinguisher on a fire may be ineffective, or even make the fire much worse. This training can be arranged by individual business units through a third party training provider and it should meet NZQA Unit Standard Unit 3271 ('suppress fire with hand extinguishers and fixed hose reels').

Note: There is a cost, charged per individual or as part of a group. 

The four points of fire fighting

Active fire fighting usually involves doing at least one of four things:

  • Removing the fuel so the fire cannot 'feed'
  • Smothering the fire or displacing oxygen so the fire cannot 'breathe'
  • Cooling the fire so it cannot maintain the temperature it needs to burn
  • Disrupting the chemical reaction which is taking place.

Removing the fuel

The easiest way to extinguish a gas fire is to turn the gas off at the main supply. This starves the fire, and then you only need to deal with residual effects. 
Note that this is not an option with most fires, but you can consider removing nearby combustible items so the fire does not spread.

Removing the oxygen

Fire blankets

For small fires, a really good option is to smother the fire using a fire blanket. These are excellent for snuffing out fires in frying pans and pots, as well as laboratory equipment such as beakers and laser-cutting booths.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishers

These can be used to displace oxygen to a level that cannot sustain a fire, but the fire will often reignite if there is a residual heat source or embers.

Dry powder

This is also very good as it forms a crusty layer to cut off the oxygen supply. Note: While effective, dry powder extinguishers are very messy and corrosive. The powder will easily damage electrical and other sensitive equipment.

Foam fire extinguishers

These are best for fats and fuels.

Cooling the fire

Water is the best agent to accomplish this, and is very useful at the very early stages.

After sounding the alarm — and only if it safe to do so and you are confident and competent to use an extinguisher — attack a small fire with a hose or water extinguisher.

If you are successful you will prevent more widespread water damage from sprinkler activation or the fire service. If the fire grows despite your efforts, evacuate immediately — do not take risks!

Warning

Water sprayed onto a fat or powdered metal fire will cause the fire to flare violently and may also cause it to spread. In addition, water sprayed onto an electrically energised fire may expose you to the risk of electrocution.

Disrupting the chemical reaction

A fire is actually a rapid chemical reaction that turns fuel and oxygen into gas products. Heat, smoke and other energy is released as part of the reaction. The process can be effectively disrupted using special extinguishing agents such as DSPA Aerosols.

Note: While they are very effective, older extinguishers that use Halon and BCF are ozone depleting and are now banned under the Ozone Layer Protection Act.

Document Control
Version: 1.0
Last Updated: Dec 2019
Next Review: Dec 2022
Owner: hsw@auckland.ac.nz
Approver: Associate Director, Health Safety & Wellbeing