Keeping the Flock Safe from Fire
In the Bible
(The faithful) quenched the power of fire (Hebrews 11:34).
‘where ... the fire is not quenched’ (Mark 9:48 - Jesus quoting Isaiah 66:24).
For lack of wood the fire goes out (Proverbs 26:20).
... they are extinguished, quenched like a wick (Isaiah 43:17).
In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one (Ephesians 6:16).
In the News
Paris, Tennessee August 15, 2019 - A fire started while roofers were working on the roof of a church. Firefighters put the fire out quickly.
Eureka, California, September 6, 2019 - An arsonist started a fire in the outside entryway of a church. Passersby saw the fire and put it out with a water hose they found by the side of the church. The suspect arrested in the case had been arrested four years earlier for trespass.
Layton, Utah, August 12, 2019 - Two men who went into a church to use the restrooms smelled smoke and checked it out. They found curtains on the platform of the gymnasium aflame and put the fire out with a fire extinguisher. The fire was evidently arson, and an automobile was seen speeding away.
Revisiting Fire Prevention
Another article in this series, "Block It," covering fire prevention, mentioned lightning rods as a means of fire prevention. In case your church is planning new construction, renovations, or upgrading, there are resources for designing and installing effective lightning protection. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has issued NFPA 780 - "Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems" - setting the standard for lightning arresting systems (commonly called "lightning rods").
A more understandable guide to designing and installing a lightning protection system is "Lightning Protection Overview" by The Lightning Protection Institute, complete with diagrams.
We can be diligently working to prevent fires in the church, but what if one starts anyway? A fire can begin for any number of reasons. A few are accidental through carelessness, mechanical breakdowns (even after equipment has been inspected), a lightning strike too strong for the lightning rod cable, and arson. In the news stories above, one fire apparently was the result of roofers' equipment, and the other two were arson. In case there is a fire, we want to (1) contain it so it won't spread, and (2) put it out.
How a fire may be suppressed depends on how the building is equipped and what firefighting tools are available. In the three news stories, one fire was put out by the fire department, one with a water hose, and the third with a fire extinguisher. Not only can fires be extinguished by people, they can also be put out by installed fire suppression systems.
How Can I Put out a Fire?
Going back to the Fire Triangle, a fire is put out by taking away one of the three elements: Fuel, Oxygen, or Heat. Most of our firefighting efforts are attempts to smother the fire, cut off its oxygen. However, before trying to put out the fire, call 9-1-1.
The best way to put out a fire is with a fire extinguisher.
Fire extinguishers are divided into classes by the kinds of fires they are made to put out:
- Class A: fires occurring in ordinary combustible materials, such as wood, paper, and plastic.
- Class B: fires occurring in flammable and combustible liquids and flammable gasses.
- Class C: fires occurring in energized electrical equipment, such as panel boxes, motors, and fans.
- Class D: fires involving combustible metals, such as potassium and magnesium.
- Class K: fires involving cooking greases and fats.
According to the South Brazos County Fire Department, numbers may be added to the Class for an extinguisher, identifying the capacity of the extinguisher. For instance, Class 1-A will hold 1.25 gallons of water or enough dry material to have the same effect, and Class 1-A will hold twice as much (2.5 gallons). Class C is an added qualifier meaning that the ingredients will not conduct electricity. For instance Class BC is for flammable liquids of gas and is not electrically conductive, so it can be used on an oil fire where electricity runs through (this could be a transformer fire).
The placement of fire extinguishers is also important. The Great American Insurance Group recommends the placement of fire extinguishers relative to the fire hazards (where certain fires are more likely to occur). Class A extinguishers (which should be everywhere) should be within 75 feet walking distance from a fire (which means no more than 150 feet apart). Class B extinguishers should be no more than 50 feet from the hazard for flammable liquids or gasses (such as where the lawn mowers and their fuel are stored or a garage for church vehicles). Class D extinguishers are rarely needed in churches, unless someone is performing metal work. A Class K extinguisher should be within 30 feet of ranges, ovens, and fryers.
When using a fire extinguisher, first pull out the safety pin. Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire and pull the trigger/lever. Sweep from side-to-side.
The action of these extinguishers is to either cool down the fire or to smother it. But removing fuel is another way to control a fire. For instance, move combustibles away from the fire if you can safely do it. Turn off the gas line (your church should have an emergency turn-off with a key). While you're at it, if the fire is in any electrical equipment, turn off the power supply.
If there is a Class A fire outside, it's OK to grab a water hose (if it is there and attached) and turn it on.
If no one is in the room and the fire cannot be put out, close the door to contain it. This will give others time to evacuate.
Fire Suppression Systems
There are several kinds of fire suppression systems, depending on the locations and kinds of fires they are intended to counter. An advantage of this kind of system is that, if working properly, it will be triggered by fire in the target area, even when no one is there. Another advantage is that (usually) a fire suppression system triggers an alarm when it is activated - when you find out a fire has started, the fire department is already on its way.
This is most common and best-known means of fire suppression. It is a series of pipes connected to a water supply. Along the pipes are sprinkler heads. When a sprinkler head is triggered, usually by excess heat or a rapid rise in temperature, it sprays water over its area. If the fire spreads, more sprinklers come on. Now common in all kinds of buildings, sprinklers have proved their worth. The system in the attic of St. John's Cathedral in New York City releases a mist.
Range Fire Suppression
The next most common fire suppression system is designed for kitchens. This is used in most restaurants and institutional kitchens and is installed above ranges and fryers. It is recommended for church kitchens. With volunteer help who are often called away or otherwise distracted, the hazard of unattended ranges, ovens, and fryers left on is increased.
Other Fire Suppression Systems
There are fire suppression systems designed for specific environments, such as furnace rooms, vehicle repair areas, and paint rooms. Unless your church has a vehicle maintenance shop, the furnace room will be the only one besides the kitchen with a special fire suppression system, especially if it uses oil heat. If it is electric heat, the system must be charged with a Class C suppressant. Even with oil heat, the blower fan means that you need a Class C suppressant.
Check and Test
Fire extinguishers and automatic fire suppression systems need to be periodically inspected and tested. This is especially true for fire extinguishers. They are out in the open where anyone can use them if needed. However, this means that they are also available for misuse and tampering. Also, the charge in an extinguisher is not forever. They should be recharged sometime. Use half of them for fire extinguisher training, then have them recharged. Use the others in the next training/practice session, There, you have them all recharged.
The church should have fire barriers, such as long-time burn-through walls, fire doors, and firestops where utilities pass through walls, ceilings, and floors. The intent is to stop or slow down the spread of fire. Most building codes require fireproof doors and fire-resistant walls in furnace rooms and kitchens.
Train the Safety Team, staff, teachers, and other volunteers to close doors when evacuees have passed through. Even an ordinary door can slow the spread of a fire. Train them to keep the furnace room door closed at all times.
There Is More
This series on Fire Safety has other articles: "Spark" (How Do Fires Start?), "Block It" (Preventing a Conflagration), and "Out from Danger" (Evacuations and Fire Drills).
- Kris Moloney, "Arson Prevention and Fire Drills for Churches," Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses, Training Materials (Classes) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/arson-prevention-and-fire-drills-for-churches-training-bundle], Online Training (Individual) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/arson-prevention-and-fire-drills-for-churches].
- Bill McCutcheon, "Roof fire extinguished at First Baptist Church," Paris Post-Intelligencer, August 15, 2019 [https://www.parispi.net/news/local_news/image_0b7bafaa-bf88-11e9-94a8-03b1366e44b2.html].
- Nazy Javid, "Suspected arsonist arrested in Eureka church fire case," KRCR News, September 9, 2019 [https://krcrtv.com/north-coast-news/eureka-local-news/suspected-arsonist-arrested-in-eureka-church-fire-case].
- Willits Police Department, "Northern Mendocino County arrest reports for Oct. 7," Willits News, October 7, 2015 [https://www.willitsnews.com/2015/10/07/northern-mendocino-county-arrest-reports-for-oct-7/].
- Anon., "Investigation Underway After 'Suspicious' Fire At Church In Layton," KSL TV, August 12, 2019 [https://ksltv.com/419531/investigation-underway-after-suspicious-fire-at-church-in-layton/].
- "Standard for the Installation of Lightning Protection Systems," National Fire Protection Association, 2020 Edition [https://www.nfpa.org/codes-and-standards/all-codes-and-standards/list-of-codes-and-standards/detail?code=780].
- "Lightning Protection Overview," The Lightning Protection Institute, 2019 Edition [https://lightning.org/lightning-protection-overview/].
- "Fire Extinguisher Selection and Distribution," Great American Insurance Group, © 2016 [https://www.greatamericaninsurancegroup.com/docs/default-source/loss-prevention/f13830a-(07-09)-fireextinguisherselectionanddistribution.pdf].
- "Fire Extinguisher Information," South Brazos County Fire Department, © 2008-2016 [http://sbcfd.net/PublicSafety/FireExtinguishers].