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“Fires only happen to other people, that will never happen to us.”

Almost everyone in the industrial laundry business says that – until they get burned. With electronic equipment often housed in older buildings, it doesn’t take much for a fire to break out, even for those who are prepared. This is a true story. Two hundred employees were doing their jobs in an 800,000 square-ft. building made of concrete and steel. Nobody expected this day to be different from any other, but no one expected a fire.

Within 10 minutes all 200 employees were evacuated from the blazing structure. Luckily no one was injured. The building, however, didn’t fare as well. It burned to the ground.

Fortunately this company had a fire prevention/protection process in place. The key word here is process, not program. What’s the difference? A process involves continual training, testing and education. A program exists in some handbook sitting on a shelf, usually unopened and unread.

The primary goal of a fire prevention/protection process is to safeguard the lives of employees. A well-rounded process includes five areas:

  1. Definition - A specific explanation to employees about what the fire prevention/protection process is and how it relates to the
    organization.
  2. Methods - Definition of employee training and ways to measure the effectiveness of the fire prevention/ protection process.
  3. Metrics  - Identification of what will be measured and why.
  4. Hazards - Recognition of potential dangers/risks and ways to reduce or eliminate them.
  5. Results - A strategic combination of the previous four areas into a plan, the fire prevention/protection process.

The success of a fire prevention/protection process depends on the employees and their knowledge about all areas of the process. Let’s examine each one in detail.

Definition involves informing employees that a process is in place, providing them with detailed descriptions of each area and emphasizing the importance of the fire prevention/protection process.

The methods area focuses on how employees are trained to recognize different types of fires. An incipient fire involves equipment or machinery inside a building. A structural fire is in the walls, roof, or floor of a building.

There are two ways to respond to fires. First responders are employees who know how to use a fire extinguisher. The second type of response mechanism involves fire brigades, which are comprised of employees trained to fight structural fires. Members of a fire brigade are required to undergo instruction according to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and regulations. Often, they have experience as fire department volunteers.

How does an employee determine that a fire requires a first responder or a member of the brigade? Using the following rating system may help.

LEVEL INDICATION ACTION
ONE SMOLDERS SELF EXTINGUISHES
TWO SMALL FLAMES FIRE EXTINGUISHER
THREE FLAMES CONFINED TO EQUIPMENT/MACHINES
FIRE EXTINGUISHER OR WATER HOSES
FOUR FLAMES CONFINED TO EQUIPMENT/MACHINES FIRE EXTINGUISHER OR WATER HOSES
FIVE FLAMES IN STRUCTURE OF BUILDING FIRE DEPARTMENT

Whether a first responder or a member of a fire brigade, all employees must be aware of primary and secondary fire exit routes from their workstations, must be trained to go directly to outside pre-arranged gathering points and participate in at least one fire drill a year.

Holding annual fire drills is a good start, but it isn’t enough. The organization must measure the effectiveness of these drills by asking itself these questions:

  • How long did it take to evacuate the building?
  • Is there a method to account for each individual in the facility – including employees, contractors and vendors?

These critical questions require specific answers for the fire prevention/protection process to be effective.

Of course planning and training aren’t enough to extinguish a fire. Equipment must be monitored on a regular basis to ensure 100 percent functionality. This is metrics. It includes every piece of fire-fighting equipment from fire extinguishers, which must be fully charged and ready for operation, to water hoses, which must be subjected to pressure tests. OSHA requires/recommends that fire extinguishers, water hoses and ceiling sprinkler systems be inspected once a month to ensure they are in proper working order.
Identifying and eliminating hazards is critical to maintaining an effective fire prevention/protection process, particularly in an industrial laundry. Two strategies for reducing hazards and risks are good housekeeping policies and preventive maintenance.

Housekeeping involves removing or reducing possible fire sources, including lint and dust, as well as proper handling of chemicals. All chemicals must be labeled correctly and stored properly so that flammable liquids are secure. Paths to all emergency exit doors must always remain unobstructed, and emergency exit doors must remain unlocked from the inside.

Preventive maintenance involves the daily monitoring of internal equipment to help eliminate potential fires due to metal-on-metal static friction. Infrared analysis sensors measure metal surface temperatures and can be useful in detecting overheating motors and electrical panels before a fire breaks out. Potential dangers include dryers, both electric and gas (especially those using propane or natural gas), washer motors and pumps.

Perhaps the best ally in any fire protection process is knowing that the pros are on your side. Invite your local fire department over for lunch and an annual tour of the facility. Introduce your internal fire brigade, and review your entire fire prevention/protection process with them. Take time to show local firefighters where flammable liquids are stored, the location of water hoses and provide them with a material safety data list and a copy of your evacuation plan.

The key to an effective fire prevention/protection process is putting each step into practice. Hopefully you will never have to put your process to the test, but if you do, a well thought out, well-orchestrated fire prevention/protection process will help save lives and protect property.

Wayne Punch is  Director of Safety & Health, Milliken & Company

Quick Rinse - News From Around The World

Ecolab Acquires Dober Chemical’S Textile Care Business

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Ecolab Inc. a leader in cleaning, sanitizing, food safety and infection prevention products and services announced it has purchased the commercial laundry division of Dober Chemical Corporation. The acquisition includes Dober’s laundry chemical and waste water treatment and Ultrax dispensing businesses as well as an exclusive partnership to market and provide key components of its Spindle monitoring software.

“Dober is respected throughout the industry for its innovative monitoring technology, product chemistry and commitment to service – qualities that complement our own strengths at Ecolab,” said Brian Henke, vice president and general manager, Ecolab Textile Care North America. “As we expand our North American commercial laundry business, innovation and service excellence will continue to be our top priority as we partner with our customers to deliver unsurpassed value to run their operations more efficiently, sustainably and cost effectively.”

“Ecolab and Dober share the same customercentric approach to service and innovative technology,” said John Dobrez, president Dober Chemical Corp. “This is an exciting development because it builds on the strengths of both companies to move the industry forward.”

Through this agreement, Spindle Technologies,a division of Dober, is forming a strategic alliance with Ecolab Textile Care in an exclusive licensing agreement for its ChemWatch Software technology and the OPTRAX Utility Module.

“There will be no movement of people as they currently all operate remotely,” said Henke. “The Dober leadership team is very skilled and respected in the industry. We plan to have them as part of the team moving forward. During the transition, both businesses will operate as usual and we do not expect there to be any changes in the service the customers are used to receiving.”