The question we’re answering today is: when should I use a fire blanket?
Imagine you’re faced with the choice of using a fire blanket or a fire extinguisher. Which one will you use?
This split second decision may help prevent a fire, but it may also end up exacerbating the situation. So it’s important to know when it’s best to deploy a fire blanket, when it’s better to deploy a fire extinguisher, and when it’s best to evacuate the building immediately.
So let’s take a look at a few scenarios and important considerations.
A Quick Note: Many fire departments would encourage you to leave the area immediately and not even try to use a fire suppressant. That’s because they worry the time spent putting out the fire increases the danger to you and possibly to them when they arrive. They don’t want anyone trapped in the building. So – safety first. Check with your local fire department for specific advice on when to use a fire blanket or fire extinguisher for you, your circumstances, and your jurisdiction.
Fire blankets help to extinguish small fires at their inception phase. They’re most effective for fires that are in a pot, pan or stove top. But, they’re also commonly used for out of control campfires and trash cans.
The main time people use a fire blanket is when the blanket can deny oxygen to the fire. If the fire is larger than the blanket or burning on a surface that cannot be fully covered by a blanket, the fire won’t be of any use.
The other time a fire blanket is often useful is for helping extinguish a fire burning on a person (e.g. their clothes are burning). To do this, the blanket is rolled entirely around the person and the person then stops, drops and rolls. Of course, training is required to know how to do this appropriately.
Common places people keep fire blankets are the kitchen, in a boat, or in a common mess area in a workplace.
Here are some of the benefits of using a fire blanket rather than a fire extinguisher:
- Usually no expiration date. Fire extinguishers expire and need regular yearly maintenance. In theory, a fire blanket should stay usable for many, many years. One key exception is old models with asbestos, which obviously should be disposed of correctly. Check the manual of your own fire blanket to see if there is an expiry date.
- Can be used on humans. If a person is on fire, many fire blankets can be effective to help extinguish the fire and safe the person’s life. Check your fire blanket’s manual and get training on how to do this.
- Less mess. A fire extinguisher leaves resin that needs to be cleaned up once the fire has been extinguished. A fire blanket may leave some small fibers, but in the most part is far less messy.
- Less damage to appliances. If a pot is burning, a fire blanket might be able to put out the pot and save the stove. A fire extinguisher, on the other hand, will get dry chemicals all through the appliances which may cause further damage.
- Less corrosive. ABC fire extinguishers have a corrosive resin on them that can cause metals to corrode. Fire blankets do not.
If you need a fire blanket for your kitchen, check out our buyers guide here.
- Not effective for large fires. If the fire blanket is larger than the fire itself, you won’t be able to suppress the whole fire using the blanket.
- They’re prickly. A fire blanket is made out of fiberglass, which is very prickly. You might find that small sharp fibers will start sticking into your clothing or skin. Consider wearing gloves when using the blanket.
- You need to get close to the fire. The best practice is to hold the blanket up between yourself and the fire to create a shield when trying to smother it.
- They’re not reusable. Once you’ve used the fire blanket, you have to throw it out and buy a new one.
Fire extinguishers work using the same premise as fire blankets. They smother small incipient fires and deny access to oxygen. Common ABC fire extinguishers do this by spraying a dry chemical substance over the fire. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not water that comes out of the fire extinguisher – it’s a specialized chemical.
We feel a fire extinguisher is a better choice for extinguishing an incipient fire that’s hard to access and cover with a blanket.
For example, even a small fire burning in the corner of a room can’t really be put out by a fire blanket – or, it’ll be hard to do so. But a fire extinguisher can blast dry chemical into the corner and extinguish the fire with ease.
If the fire is too large for the extinguisher or the operator is untrained then it’s often best to evacuate and ensure everyone is safe to let the fire department work on the fire. Check with your local fire department about their advice on when to use the extinguisher and when to evacuate.
- They can work on Larger Surface Areas. A fire extinguisher will be able to put out a much larger fire than a fire blanket, depending on the overall size and capacity of the extinguisher.
- They work on Open Fires. Fire blankets are good for fires in closed containers like a trash can, pot or fire pit. Fire extinguishers can be sprayed at a fire in any location.
- You can extinguish the fire from a distance. You need to walk right up to a fire to put it out using a fire blanket. Fire extinguishers usually have discharge ranges of about 7 – 15 feet, depending on the extinguisher.
If you’re on the hunt for a fire extinguisher, read our review of the Amerex B500.
- They cause a mess. The dry powder needs to be vacuumed up once it has been discharged. You could use an ash vacuum for this purpose.
- They’re corrosive. The dry chemical in an ABC fire extinguisher can be corrosive to metals. This is why the aviation industry uses Halogen extinguishers instead.
- They require regular maintenance. Pressure gauges need to be checked once a month to ensure the extinguisher is still full. Some jurisdictions require you get the extinguisher checked annually by a qualified service technician.
- Their discharge time is short. A fire extinguisher discharge time ranges from about 8 to 21 seconds depending on the size of the extinguisher.
Fire blankets and fire extinguishers are both useful for fighting fires. Before deploying a fire blanket or fire extinguisher, we would personally call 9-1-1 and get the fire department on their way immediately.
Fire blankets are designed for smaller inception fires that are inside close containers or confined spaces where it’s easy to deny the fire of oxygen. If the fire is spreading or too large to throw a blanket over it, a fire extinguisher might be a better option for a well trained user.
Large fire extinguishers can be effective at putting out fires that are several square feet in diameter. But they aren’t nearly as useful as a fire truck!
So, if the fire extinguisher will not be able to suppress the fire, we would choose to calmly evacuate the area and contact the fire department immediately.
Remember, we can’t provide specific advice or information to you, your circumstances, or your jurisdiction, so it’s important to consult with your local fire department.