- Fire blankets are sheets of fire retardant material that can smother small fires or wrap around a person whose clothes are on fire.
- Fire blankets are essential safety devices in laboratories, where chemical and electrical fire hazards are common.
- Fire blankets can be made of different materials, such as glass fiber, wool, or ceramic fiber, depending on the type and temperature of the fire.
- Fire blankets should be installed in accessible locations, inspected regularly, and replaced after use or damage.
- Fire blankets should be used correctly according to the instructions, and never on oil or fat fires.
Laboratories are places where scientific experiments and research are conducted, involving various equipment, chemicals, and electrical devices. While these activities are essential for advancing knowledge and innovation, they also pose significant fire risks that can cause injuries, property damage, or even death.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration⁶, an estimated 24,200 residential building electrical fires were reported to U.S. fire departments in 2021, causing 295 deaths, 900 injuries, and over $1.2 billion in property loss. Electrical fires can be caused by faulty wiring, overloaded outlets, damaged cords, or sparks from appliances.
Chemical fires are another common type of fire in laboratories, especially when incompatible substances are mixed, spilled, or heated. Some chemicals can ignite spontaneously when exposed to air or water, while others can react violently with oxidizers, acids, bases, or metals. Chemical fires can produce toxic fumes, explosions, or corrosive residues.
To prevent and control these fire hazards, laboratories need to have adequate fire safety measures in place, such as proper storage and handling of chemicals, regular maintenance and inspection of electrical equipment, ventilation systems, fire alarms, extinguishers, sprinklers, and emergency plans. One of the most important and versatile fire safety devices in laboratories is the fire blanket.
What is a Fire Blanket?
A fire blanket is a sheet of fire retardant material that can be used to smother small fires or wrap around a person whose clothes are on fire. Fire blankets work by cutting off the oxygen supply to the fire, which is one of the three elements of the fire triangle (along with heat and fuel). By depriving the fire of oxygen, the combustion process stops and the fire goes out.
Fire blankets are usually folded into a quick-release container that can be mounted on a wall or stored in a cabinet. The container should have clear instructions on how to use the fire blanket and a label indicating the type and size of the blanket. Fire blankets should be installed in accessible locations near potential sources of fire in laboratories, such as Bunsen burners, alcohol lamps, electrical outlets, or chemical storage areas.
Fire blankets have several advantages over other fire extinguishing methods:
- They are easy to use and do not require special training or skills.
- They do not create any mess or damage to the equipment or environment.
- They do not produce any harmful chemicals or gases that can affect the health or safety of the users or bystanders.
- They can protect the users from burns or shock by acting as a thermal barrier.
- They can be used as a personal protection device during an evacuation process.
Types of Fire Blankets
Fire blankets can be made of different materials depending on the type and temperature of the fire they are designed to extinguish. The most common materials used for fire blankets are:
- Glass fiber: This is a synthetic material that consists of fine strands of glass woven into a fabric. Glass fiber is resistant to high temperatures (up to 1200°C) ³ and does not melt or burn. Glass fiber is also lightweight, flexible, and durable. Glass fiber is suitable for most types of fires in laboratories, except for metal fires.
- Wool: This is a natural material that comes from sheep or other animals. Wool is treated with a flame retardant chemical such as hexafluorozirconate or zirconium acetate ¹ to make it more resistant to fire. Wool can withstand temperatures up to 570°C ⁵ and does not melt or drip. Wool is also soft, comfortable, and absorbent. Wool is suitable for fires involving solid materials such as wood or paper.
- Ceramic fiber: This is a synthetic material that consists of thin fibers made from alumina and silica. Ceramic fiber is resistant to very high temperatures (up to 1300°C) ² and does not shrink or deform. Ceramic fiber is also strong, stable, and non-combustible. Ceramic fiber is suitable for fires involving flammable liquids such as alcohol or gasoline, or metals such as magnesium or sodium.
The following table summarizes the main characteristics and applications of the different types of fire blankets:
|Glass fiber||Up to 1200°C||Lightweight, flexible, durable, non-melting, non-burning||May irritate skin or eyes, may release fine particles when cut or torn||Most types of fires in laboratories, except for metal fires|
|Wool||Up to 570°C||Soft, comfortable, absorbent, non-melting, non-dripping||May shrink or char when exposed to high heat, may lose flame retardancy over time or after washing||Fires involving solid materials such as wood or paper|
|Ceramic fiber||Up to 1300°C||Strong, stable, non-combustible, non-shrinking, non-deforming||May be brittle or stiff, may be expensive or hard to find||Fires involving flammable liquids such as alcohol or gasoline, or metals such as magnesium or sodium|
How to Use a Fire Blanket
Fire blankets should be used correctly according to the instructions on the container and the type of fire. The general steps for using a fire blanket are:
- Pull the tabs on the container to release the fire blanket.
- Hold the fire blanket by the corners and wrap it around your hands to protect them from the heat.
- Approach the fire carefully and cover it completely with the fire blanket. Do not leave any gaps or openings for air to enter.
- Leave the fire blanket on the fire until it is completely extinguished. Do not remove it prematurely or disturb it.
- Call for help and report the fire to the appropriate authorities.
- Dispose of the fire blanket safely after use or damage. Do not reuse it.
The following table provides some specific tips and precautions for using a fire blanket on different types of fires:
|Type of Fire||Tips and Precautions|
|Clothing fire||If your clothes are on fire, stop, drop, and roll on the ground to smother the flames. If someone else’s clothes are on fire, wrap them with a fire blanket and make them lie down. Check for any burns and seek medical attention if needed.|
|Electrical fire||Turn off the power supply before using a fire blanket on an electrical fire. Do not use water or any conductive material on an electrical fire. Avoid touching any live wires or metal parts.|
|Chemical fire||Wear protective gloves and goggles when using a fire blanket on a chemical fire. Do not inhale any fumes or smoke from the burning chemicals. Avoid contact with any corrosive or toxic residues.|
|Oil or fat fire||Do not use a fire blanket on an oil or fat fire, such as a chip pan fire. The fire blanket may not be able to smother the flames completely and may cause splashing or spreading of the burning oil or fat. Use a wet chemical extinguisher or a metal lid instead.|
Fire blankets are essential safety devices in laboratories, where chemical and electrical fire hazards are common. Fire blankets can smother small fires or wrap around a person whose clothes are on fire. Fire blankets can be made of different materials, such as glass fiber, wool, or ceramic fiber, depending on the type and temperature of the fire. Fire blankets should be installed in accessible locations, inspected regularly, and replaced after use or damage. Fire blankets should be used correctly according to the instructions, and never on oil or fat fires. By following these guidelines, you can protect yourself and your equipment from fire risks in laboratories.