Fire blankets: a great option for containing fires and protecting people from flames—but not for fighting a fire that’s already spreading
Fire blankets work on a simple principle: smother the fire and deprive it of oxygen. To do this effectively, they have to be nonflammable themselves and provide as much of a barrier for heat and oxygen as possible. A modern commercial fire blanket will contain a fiberglass layer to achieve this purpose and the blanket will be designed to keep the fiberglass from coming in contact with skin.
A fire blanket should be mounted on a wall near (but not directly over) the area where it might be needed. For example, NFPA codes and standards stipulate that fire extinguishers be placed within 30 feet of cooking equipment, and it’s proper to place a fire blanket within this range as well. A fire blanket typically comes with a protective cover that clearly identifies it and instructs the user on how to extract the blanket.
Pros of fire blankets
They can be used for personal protection
If a person’s hair or clothing is on fire, wrapping them up in a fire blanket can be an important part of the “stop, drop, and roll” technique which is taught to minimize burns and injury. According to NFPA, blankets are especially useful if the person involved is not physically able to move rapidly due to age, medical condition, or physical limitations.
If a fire is out of control and you are surrounded by flames, a fire blanket may also help protect you and those you are helping if you must evacuate near areas exposed to flames.
Fire blankets contain fires in early stages, especially cooking fires
Cooking fires often start with a relatively small amount of grease in a container like a pan or pot. People are often reluctant to discharge a fire extinguisher because of the cleanup effort and expense involved, and Class K fire extinguishers are specifically required “for fires involving combustible cooking media (vegetable or animal oils and fats).” Sometimes, people pour or throw water onto a grease fire, with disastrous effects.
Putting a lid or pan over a fire in a container is the right idea—if done effectively, it will smother the fire. But it can be risky, because you may not have enough protection from the flames as you bring this cover down over them.
Using a fire blanket lowers this risk. FIRST, turn off the source of heat, if possible. A quality fire blanket will have straps to help you wrap your hands up completely to protect them. You must quickly drape the fire blanket over the fire without throwing it or fanning the flames. Once it’s on, leave it in place until you’re certain the fire is out.
This video from the fire department in New South Wales, Australia provides an excellent demonstration of how to use a fire blanket on a cooking fire:
Fire blankets can be used by people who might have difficulty with extinguishers
If upper-body strength is an issue, fire blankets sized like the Wilson and Cousins 60” x 78” fire blanket are easily handled, as they typically weigh no more than two to three pounds.
Some people are concerned about what will happen when they use a fire extinguisher and are confused by the different types of extinguishers available; they may not know exactly which one should be deployed. While these concerns can and should be addressed by training, using a fire blanket may be a more straightforward decision if a fire is small enough.
Cons and considerations of fire blankets
They are a one-use item
Fire extinguishers must be replaced or recharged after every use, whereas fire blankets should always be replaced after any use in a fire, even if they appear to be intact.
Older fire blankets may contain asbestos
The EPA instituted a partial ban on products containing asbestos in 1989 because of the serious risks of lung disease associated with the material. Asbestos was extremely common in fire blankets before that time. If you have any old fire blankets in your home or workplace that you suspect may contain asbestos, contact an asbestos removal specialist. Don’t use them, handle them, or disturb them.
Fire blankets require you to get close to a fire
The correct technique to use a fire blanket requires you to place it right on top of a fire. If flames are high above the source or widespread, this may be difficult or impossible to do safely.
Fire blankets can’t be used safely on larger fires
If a fire is becoming widespread, a fire blanket can’t be deployed effectively. A typical fire blanket size is about five feet wide by six feet long. Sizes much larger than this can become unwieldy for one person to handle. If the fire is extensive, it’s not a good idea to attempt to use a fire blanket, except as mentioned above for personal protection.
Fire blankets also require a bit of training
Without proper training, it could be easy to panic while approaching a fire, causing you to drop or throw the blanket. This could make things worse by spreading flaming liquids or fanning the flames. If you fail to wrap your hands in the corners of the blanket, you could burn yourself. For all these reasons, deploying fire blankets should include some training in how and when they are used, just as you would for fire extinguishers.
Fire blankets and fire extinguishers each have a role in fire safety
You should not be without a fire extinguisher—they are required for commercial spaces and highly recommended for all homes. They can prevent or minimize damage before the fire department can arrive and often put out fires in their earlier stages. But while fire extinguishers are more familiar to most of us, especially in the US, you should consider adding fire blankets to your fire protection strategy.
A fire blanket may help avoid a cleanup effort and they are particularly useful for small cooking fires that are caught early. This piece of equipment could also be a life-saver for yourself, a family member, or a coworker if someone catches on fire or needs to evacuate near flames. Fire blankets are an especially good idea for kitchens and areas where vessels and containers might catch fire. And they are also worth considering if you have elderly or infirm people in your home or place of business—who may not be able to drop and roll to smother a fire on their person.
QRFS carries a variety of fire extinguishers for home, commercial, and industrial use. Our selection includes Buckeye portable dry chemical fire extinguishers – rated for Class A, Class B, and Class C fires – in sizes from 2 1/2 pounds (1A:10B:C) to 20 pounds (10A:120B:C), and CO2 fire extinguishers up to 20 pounds (10B:C).
- Product Code: FIRE BLANKET
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