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Under One Roof

Canadian Roofing Reference Manual

1.4.5 Fire Prevention

No matter how well prepared you are for it, a fire is still something you really never want to face. It is much better to prevent one than it is to fight one.

There are several sources of fires that are well known. In order to protect your home or workplace from some of these common fire-starters, make yourself aware of fire hazards, and watch for them.

  • Smokers are responsible for many fires. “NO SMOKING” signs are posted as a precaution and they must be obeyed. In areas where smoking is permitted, smokers should be certain that cigarettes have been put out before discarding them. All persons who use matches, for any purpose whatsoever, should take similar precautions.
  • The use of an open flame, as in soldering, welding, or cutting torches, should be strictly avoided in any area where explosive mixtures of gas or dust exist, or in the vicinity of any highly volatile, ignitable fluid. High concentrations of wood dust, can be found in virtually any carpentry shop, can spontaneously combust, given the right conditions. Don’t give these conditions a chance to turn into fires – good housekeeping can prevent most fires!
  • Prevent any sparks in an area where fumes are present – if you can smell gas, fumes are present. (Remember, many homes are heated with natural gas. If you smell gas fumes, call the Gas Company or the Fire Department). A concentration of as little as one percent of gasoline vapour in the surrounding air is an explosive mixture. If this situation cannot be avoided, at least keep the area well ventilated, cool, and be sure there is an extinguisher – the right type – close at hand.

There are safety checks that you can work into your daily work routines to help avoid any potentially hazardous conditions:

  • Store flammable liquids in a fireproof room or cabinet.
  • Bring only enough flammable liquid into the shop for immediate use. Keep the liquids in safety containers approved by fire authorities. Label each container with the name of its contents.
  • Use only approved cleaning solutions. Do not use gasoline or carbon tetrachloride.
  • Place rags containing oil, gasoline, paint, solvents, and other combustibles in approved metal containers. Fire officials advise that such rags be hung or spread out in a well- ventilated place until dry. This helps to avoid spontaneous combustion.
  • Keep the tops of oil drums and the areas surrounding them free of combustible materials.
  • Dispose of unwanted flammable liquids and combustible materials every day.
  • Keep all flammable fluids and materials in safe containers and store them in a separate area.
  • Always keep your workshop clean, and immediately discard all rubbish and combustibles. Dispose of oil rags as soon as you are finished with them by placing them in a covered steel container.
  • Keep the lids on all solvent tanks when they are not being used.
  • Make certain that all electrical equipment is properly connected and grounded.
  • When using power tools, avoid using an octopus connection, which could overload the extension cable.
  • DO NOT wear fuel-soaked clothing. Take the time to change. IF A SPARK HITS YOUR CLOTHES, YOU WON’T HAVE TIME TO REGRET NEGLECTING TO CHANGE.
  • Always connect exhaust hoses to operating machinery – fumes are often lethal as the fire itself.
  • Do not do any welding or torching without a fire extinguisher within arm’s reach and always keep your attention on the flame.
  • Do not switch on a battery charger until the cables are properly connected. Battery charging gases are highly explosive. Use caution while charging, and be certain the area is well-ventilated.
  • When using an extension light, make certain that the lamp guard is in place.
  • Never point the flame toward yourself or others, and never rest a flaming torch on an object. Shut the torch off immediately after using it.
  • Do not enter a room marked “NO SMOKING” with an open flame, or anything that could create a spark.
  • Do not flip a match or cigarette in any direction before you are certain it is extinguished. DO use an ashtray.
  • Do not block fire doors with any object.
  • Do not attempt to first fight the fire, and then sound the alarm.
  • Always sound the alarm before you attempt to extinguish a fire.
  • Regularly check that all firefighting equipment and extinguishers are in operating  condition and in the proper place.
  • Know when to fight a fire yourself and when to leave it to the fire department.
  • Do not allow foreign material – dust, shavings, wire clippings, etc. to collect in or on electrical equipment. Motors, transformers, power cables, panels, light fixtures – all electrical equipment – depend on free air circulation for cooling. When the air flow  is restricted, by equipment being covered in dirt or other material, abnormal heating will result. This is a common cause of equipment failure, and can result in fires.
  • Do not overload electrical circuits. Whether you are making electrical connections in a wall panel, or within an electrical component, poor connections, improper insulation, frayed cords, improper grounding, overfilled electrical boxes, or overloaded current devices are all common causes of electrical fires.
  • Another reliable fire prevention practice is to simply be sure that you are familiar with your work area.
  • Know the location of all fire exits. If you have to get out in a hurry, you don’t want to have to take the time to find an unlocked door.
  • Know the location of all fire alarms. If you see a fire, YOU ARE GOING TO WANT HELP!
  • Know the location of fire extinguishers, and KNOW HOW TO USE THEM!!
  • Be aware that many fires start as a result of light bulbs breaking (causing a spark). Always use a properly grounded light when working around flammable material, when welding, or around vehicles.
  • Regularly test the operation of extinguishers, fire hoses, and alarms.
  • Be sure the extinguishers THAT MAY SAVE YOUR LIFE are recharged or filled after every use.
  • The main fire hazard for roofers comes from the kettle or use of torches to heat material. A kettle fire with the liquid asphalt burning is a Class B type fire. To put out this kind of fire, close the lid on the kettle, turn off the burner and use a Class B fire extinguisher. If you just close the lid, the fire may smoke badly and damage the building. Never use water on a kettle fire.
  • To avoid kettle fires, the kettle operator should keep the outside of the kettle as clean as possible. Asphalt waste material should also be removed from the kettle during operation. The kettle operator must stay close by the kettle and monitor the temperatures and the burners.
  • Sometimes in cold weather, atorch is used to heat mastic cement. This is not recommended roofing practice, but does occur. The mastic cement can catch fire if in contact with direct flame. Smother the fire by covering the container. Also, to heat the mastic cement keep it on top of the hot kettle, and avoid using a torch.
  • When applying a torched-on modified bitumen membrane, there must be at least one extinguisher on the roof for each torch operator. At the end of the day, check for hot spots and have one worker remain on the roof for a minimum of one additional hour to ensure there are no hot spots that can flare up.

NOTE: A fire extinguisher, even if used just a little to extinguish a small fire, must be recharged once the seal has been broken.

Many hazardous situations can be remedied to at least reduce the hazard. FIRES CAN BE PREVENTED!!