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Stepwise Success

Know Your ABCs

Published March 4, 2015 7:20 AM by Scott Warner

When I was a teenager a local businessman ran a company called ABC Rubbish, I suppose so it would be listed first in the telephone book. We always called it “Already Been Chewed.” To this day that’s the main reason I remember that company. Mnemonics (from the Greek word for “memory”) are definitely handy.

A common “ABC” that you may not think about is one you see every day. It’s in your workplace, grocery store, department store, corner market, and probably your home. It’s what describes a type of fire extinguisher.

Not all fire extinguishers are the same. Different types fight different types of fire. OSHA has a handy “etool” that explains this. The most common types are:

  • A (water, usually a large metal canister with a hose) - used for paper, wood, linens, and other ordinary combustibles; anything that leaves an “A”sh.
  • BC (CO2, the kind with a horn nozzle) - used for flammable liquids, greases, and paints (anything that “B”oils or “B”ubbles) and for electrical fires (anything carrying a live electrical “C”urrent).
  • ABC (dry chemical, usually a small or medium red canister with a hose attached) - suitable for all fires (A, B, or C).

The most common type of extinguisher you’ll see is ABC. Usually a label on the extinguisher says “ABC” but may also contain universal symbols denoting the type of fire: a burning trash can for A, gasoline can for B, and electric plug for C. Since the dry chemical is released under pressure, these extinguishers have a gauge with a needle that should be in the green. There should also be a tag attached denoting monthly checks.

It’s common in laboratories, IT departments, and other places with a lot of electronics to have a BC type extinguisher. But an ABC is also needed for any general type of fire. The dry chemical, which is intended to smother the fuel source, can be used on an electrical fire, but it effectively ruins the equipment. It’s something to think about when selecting a fire extinguisher, and a good reason to know your ABCs.

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posted by Scott Warner
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About this Blog


    Scott Warner, MLT(ASCP)
    Occupation: Laboratory Manager
    Setting: Critical Access Hospital
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