An electrical fire is one that starts due to an electrical failure or malfunction. While these incidents generate flames and heat like any other fire, it’s important to know you can’t use water to put out these flames. Using water while the power is still on can cause you to be electrocuted. And even when the power is off, water may damage the wiring, electronics, or machinery that was the source of the fire.
Especially in commercial settings, electrical fires are not just a safety hazard for employees and staff, but a significant source of property damage and unnecessary expenses. According to the National Fire Protection Association, electrical distribution and lighting equipment are involved in 24% of structural fires at manufacturing or industrial properties. This means circuit breakers, switchboards, and both general purpose and hazardous location lighting.
So if you can’t use water to put out fires in these and other locations, how do you extinguish an electrical fire? Let’s review insights about electrical fire, like what to do for prevention and safety in manufacturing and industrial settings, as well as in case of an electrical fire, which fire extinguisher should be applied.
How Do Firefighters Put Out Electrical Fires?
Whether responding to signs of an electrical fire in walls or more visible flames, the first step firefighters will take is to turn off the power. This could mean unplugging machinery or appliances or using the fuse box or building power source to disable the electrical current.
Next, depending on the size of the fire, it will be smothered or extinguished. Small fires can be smothered with a fire blanket to cut off the oxygen feeding the flames. Larger fires will be extinguished with carbon dioxide (CO2), a clean agent, or a dry polyvalent powder. CO2 and clean agents do not leave a residue after their release, meaning they are safer options for use with electronics and machinery. The polyvalent powder can leave behind a sticky residue.
How Do You Extinguish an Electrical Fire?
If someone is present when an electrical fire starts, extinguishing the fire on your own may be possible to minimize damage and injury, but the fire should still be reported to the fire department.
Sodium bicarbonate is one agent in Class C fire extinguishers, which are the recommended extinguishers for electrical fires. These types of fire extinguishers are developed using chemicals that will not conduct electricity, meaning they can still be used even if the power is not shut off. The most effective way to put out a small or local electrical fire is with a Class C fire extinguisher. However, that depends on the presence of a human to use the fire extinguisher, and that they can reach the device. Signs of electrical fire like a burning smell or smoke sometimes only manifest when the fire is already out of control.
To provide 24/7 protection, automatic fire detection, and suppression systems can be deployed. These systems are triggered by smoke, fire, or changes in ambient temperature to release a suppressing agent and put out fires before they spread. Systems can use clean agents like Novec 1230™ and FM-200™ which evaporates immediately, making it safe for sensitive equipment and electronics, as well as people.
Another option for small, enclosed spaces like electrical panels and cabinets is innovative technologies like FlexRope which has proprietary granules that undergo a chemical reaction that results in a fire-fighting gaseous cloud that fills the enclosure and suppresses the fire before it has the opportunity to spread. Inside these spaces, there is a high risk of ignition, but a low chance anyone might notice. Automatic fire suppression systems target fires directly and in a timely manner whether staff is in the area or not.
Electrical fires can be unavoidable. But that doesn’t mean the associated worries, expenses, and downtime are required. It is important to understand your unique facility and hazards and implement a solution that keeps both employees and property safe from electrical fires.