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Six Pack: Fire Safety in the Garage

 

6 Pack: Fire Safety in the Garage
If you are fortunate enough to have your own home garage to work in, chances are it would be a pretty easy place for a fire to break out. Grinding, welding, and torch use combined with the mixture of fluids, vapors, gases and other hazards can make the home-builder's base camp a potential tinder box. If your shop or garage does double-duty as the home laundry room, Christmas decoration storage facility, kid's toy box and and myriad other typical tasks you are even more at risk. Add wooden construction, poor ventilation and a careless craftsman and it gets even worse. The best defense against fire is a clean and organized work area where loose sparks and other potential igniters fizzle out long before finding fuel to ignite. This 6-Pack feature was put together with 33'er Tony "Rustrocket" Alarcon who's been a CDF fireman for over a hundred years, and who recently lit his own motorcycle on fire in his driveway. (We figured someone with real experience would have the most to contribute.)
1. Hazards. They exist everywhere throughout every garage. The key is eliminating as many as possible. Typical tract home garages, where a hot water heater, dryer, or other device with a piloted ignition are full of hazards. Newer homes with inside washers and dryers cut down on some of them, but a hot water heater will almost always be found in the garage (except for areas of severe winter cold). Dryer lint is not only messy, but it is like a dense paper or cheap fire logs, and will easily ignite from an errant spark. Statistically speaking Heating and Cooking devices cause more fires in the home, than anything. Most of us don't have open stoves in the garage, but plenty of us build bikes in the kitchen or have open-element heaters in the work area. Flammable liquids that put off vapor are the biggest hazards. Pump gasoline will put off vapor that will flash below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and will most always find an ignition source in a closed room. Acetylene has one of the greatest flammability ranges of any gas (2.5% on the lean and upwards of 80% on the rich); and it is capable of exploding in a 100% rich atmosphere. Always leave your garage open when handling gasoline, or any other flammable gasses. Identify the hazards in your garage and do your best to isolate them. Keep combustibles in a metal cabinet and store gas cans outside of the work area. Check around the clothes drier and especially around the vent where lint accumulates. Fix leaky petcocks, carbs, tanks and lines on all bikes, and turn them off when done riding. Keep the floor clean. Empty the trash. Have a real (steel, closing) rag bucket. Litter that piles up under benches and tool boxes makes perfect kindling for sparks to nest into and ignite. No home garage is going to be a fireproof shop, but keeping it clean and watching what you are doing with chemicals, welding slag and your torch will go a long way towards preserving your man cave (and your house!)
2. Rags & Spontaneous Combustion. Rags, clothes, paper towels or other things with chemicals on them are perfect combustibles. When you use rags with cleaners, stains, gasoline or anything like that, they need to be disposed of properly.  We're not talking about legal, EPA, type nonsense. We're talking about not burning your place down. It has happened in the past and will happen again.  Spontaneous combustion (maybe not human spontaneous combustion, even though this would be cool as hell to see it happen at least once) is real, and rags with oils are a common cause. Rinse your rags if you have a utility sink, or another sink that drains to the sewer. Then lay the rags outside of your garage, flat on the ground and allow them to dry. It may look like shit for a couple days outside the garage, but it is better than taking a chance of having them start a fire. A metal rag bucket with a gravity-closing lid is a good idea in any shop that generates dirty rags. It won't work so well if you have it piled so high that the lid won't close, or if it's kept next to your supply of race gas.
3. Chemicals. Storing chemicals and gas is a common issue in any shop or garage. Most of us don't clean up containers before stashing them on a shelf or putting them in a cabinet.  Aerosol cans are nice and don’t leave a big mess on the sides of cans, from pouring or whatever. Large containers of acetone, mineral spirits, WD-40, gasoline, etc usually have drip and pour marks on the sides of their storage containers. Certain chemicals when mixed together can create immense amounts of heat, and being that they are right next to stored chemicals are a recipe for disaster.  Flammable liquids storage containers are ridiculously priced, but placing combustibles up high and as far away from the usual area used for grinding and welding is simple common sense stuff that doesn't cost a penny.
4. Extinguishers. Everyone should have at least one in their garage, and depending on how much work you do, how big your garage is, and how much of a fire load (things that will readily burn) is present, maybe a second or third. Unless you are working with magnesium or another flammable metal, a ABC type extinguisher is what you’ll want. It’s good for just about everything that you can be presented with in the garage. Those little extinguishers that you can pack onto your bike, or may have under your kitchen sink, aren’t going to pack enough kick to put out much. Every other month you should turn your extinguisher upside down.  You can even tap the bottom gently with a rubber mallet. They are filled with powder and will cake and harden over time. Nothing would be worse than having an extinguisher malfunction when your outlaw chopper is about to go up in flames.
5. What if you do have a fire? Say you’re in the shop slaving away and the next thing you know you have somehow managed to start a fire. Whatever is burning should dictate how to handle the problem. It may be the stack of Club International in the corner, a stack of rags in the trash can, or your bike. If you don’t have an extinguisher you are not necessarily screwed. Limited in your approach? Yes, but you can still save it. If it's your trash can or rag bucket, man up and throw that thing out into the driveway (but not under your car!). Remember when you pick it up and try and throw it or run with it, the fire will appear to get bigger, and the flames may come toward you. Be mindful of where your face and hands are, but get it outside. If it’s the bike, pull that thing out of the garage, post haste. A stack of porn or pile of manuals in the corner presents another problem. You aren’t going to be able to grab them and run without spreading embers, and shit all over without possibly causing more things to burn. Confining what is burning and preventing it from lighting more stuff on fire is top priority if you don’t have an extinguisher.  
So you have an extinguisher, now what? First off, you know where it is at all times. It should be mounted to the wall so it doesn't move around and it'll be where you want it when you need it. Understand that when you pull that pin and get ready to let her rip the rush of air from the extinguisher will make the fire flare up for a second. Don't worry about that, just keep going! Next, aim the nozzle right at the base of the fire, squeeze the handle, and slowly sweep from one side of the fire to the other until it's out. Don't worry about your paint, or getting powder in your carb, just hose that thing down until it quits burning!
6. On the road. Being on the road and having something catch fire on your bike puts you in a bad category. If moving, get off it quickly, and unless you have an extinguisher on the bike, or someone stops with one, grab what you want off the bike, sit down and put your head in your hands and watch her go. You could try and throw dirt or something at it, water from a water bottle, smother it with your leather jacket, etc but chances are that it is fuel related and the chances of getting it out sans extinguisher are pretty slim. If you can think fast enough, turn the petcocks off and get the machine to where it will cause the least damage or ignite the fewest secondary fires.
The takeaway from all this? Use common sense. Eliminate as many hazards as possible, use discipline and clean up your area every night. Put things back where they go, separate your combustibles from spark/heat/flame sources and know what to do if all of the above doesn't work and you actually catch something on fire.

Working in your home garage is a nice setup. Burning your house to the ground because you didn't pay attention to safety basics sucks. Grinding, welding, and torches combined with fluids, vapors and other hazards can make the home builder's base camp a tinder box.

If your shop or garage does double duty as the home laundry room, holiday storage or kid's toy box, you're at even greater risk. Add wooden construction, poor ventilation and a careless craftsman and things get worse. The best defense against fire is a clean and organized work area where loose sparks and other potential igniters fizzle out long before they reach fuel. This 6-Pack was put together with 33'er Tony "Rustrocket" Alarcon. Tony's been a fireman for 12 years, and despite this credential he recently lit his motorcycle on fire in the driveway. We figured someone with real experience would have the most to contribute on a subject like this.

 

1.jpg

 

1. Hazards. They exist everywhere in every garage. The key is eliminating as many as possible. Typical tract home garages with a hot water heater, dryer and other devices with a piloted ignition are full of hazards. Newer houses with washers and dryers inside the home cut down on some of these hazzards, but a hot water heater can almost always be found in the garage, except for areas of severe winter cold. Dryer lint is not only messy, but it is like a dense paper or cheap fire logs, and will easily ignite from an errant spark. Statistically speaking, heating and cooking devices cause more fires in the home than any other source. Most of us don't have open stoves in the garage, but plenty of us build bikes in the kitchen or have open-element heaters in the work area. Flammable liquids that put off vapor are the biggest hazards. Pump gasoline will put off vapor that will flash below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, and can find an ignition source in a closed room.

Acetylene has one of the greatest flammability ranges of any gas (2.5% on the lean side and upwards of 80% on the rich), and is capable of exploding in a 100% rich atmosphere. Always leave your garage open when handling gasoline, or any other flammable gases. Identify the hazards in your garage and try to isolate them. Keep combustibles in a metal cabinet and store gas cans outside of the work area. Check around the clothes dryer and especially around the vent where lint accumulates. Fix leaky petcocks, carbs, tanks and lines on all bikes, and turn them off when your bike is parked. Keep the floor clean. Empty the trash. Get a real rag bucket with a closing metal lid. Litter that piles up under benches and tool boxes makes perfect kindling for sparks. No home garage is going to be a fireproof shop, but keeping it clean and watching what you are doing with chemicals, welding slag and your torch will go a long way towards preserving your man cave and your house!

 

2.jpg

 

2. Rags & Spontaneous Combustion. Rags, clothes, paper towels or other things with chemicals on them are perfect combustibles. When you use rags with cleaners, stains, gasoline or anything like that, dispose of them properly. We're not talking about legal, EPA-style nonsense—we're talking about not burning your house down. Spontaneous combustion is real, and rags with oils are a common cause. Rinse your rags if you have a sink that drains to the sewer, then lay the rags flat outside the garage and allow them to dry. A metal rag bucket with a gravity-closing lid is a good idea in any shop that generates dirty rags. Obviously such cans don't work well if the lids don't close, or if they're kept next to your supply of race gas.
 

3.jpg

 

3. Chemicals. Storing chemicals and gas is a common issue in any shop or garage. Most of us don't clean up containers before stashing them on a shelf or putting them in a cabinet. Aerosol cans are nice and don’t generate a big residual mess. Large containers of acetone, mineral spirits, WD-40, gasoline, etc. usually have drip and pour marks on their sides, and even tiny amounts of certain chemicals can generate immense amounts of heat if they come into contact with one another.  Flammable liquids storage containers are ridiculously priced, but placing combustibles up high and as far away from your grinding and welding areas is simple common sense and doesn't cost an extra dime.

 

4.jpg

 

4. Extinguishers. Everyone should have at least one extinguisher in his garage, and depending on other factors (garage size, materials, chemicals, heat sources, to name four) as many as three or four. Unless you are working with magnesium or other flammable metals, an ABC type extinguisher is what you need. It’s good for just about everything that you can be presented with in the garage. Those little extinguishers that you can pack onto your bike, or may have under your kitchen sink, aren’t going to pack enough kick to put out a very big fire. Every other month you should turn your extinguisher upside down.  You can even tap the bottom gently with a rubber mallet. They are filled with powder and will cake and harden over time. Nothing would be worse than having an extinguisher malfunction when your outlaw chopper is about to go up in flames.

 

5b.jpg

 

5. What if you do have a fire? Say you’re in the shop slaving away and the next thing you know you're facing a fire. Whatever is burning should dictate how to handle the problem. It may be the stack of Club International in the corner, a stack of rags in the trash can, or your bike. If you don’t have an extinguisher you are not necessarily screwed. Limited in your approach? Yes, but you can still save it. If it's your trash can or rag bucket, man up and throw that thing out into the driveway (but not under your car!) Remember when you pick it up and try and throw it or run with it, the fire will appear to get bigger, and the flames may come toward you. Be mindful of where your face and hands are, but get it outside. If it’s the bike, pull that thing out of the garage, post haste. A stack of porn or pile of manuals in the corner presents another problem. You aren’t going to be able to grab them and run without spreading embers, and shit all over without possibly causing more things to burn. Confining what is burning and preventing it from lighting more stuff on fire is top priority if you don’t have an extinguisher.  

So you have an extinguisher, now what? First off, know where it is at all times. It should be mounted to the wall so it doesn't move around and it'll be there when you need it. Understand that when you pull that pin and get ready to let her rip the rush of air from the extinguisher will make the fire flare up for a second. Don't worry about that, just keep going! Next, aim the nozzle right at the base of the fire, squeeze the handle, and slowly sweep from one side of the fire to the other until it's out. Don't worry about your paint, or getting powder in your carb, just hose that thing down until it quits burning!
 

6.jpg

 

6. On the road. Being on the road and having something catch fire on your bike puts you in a bad category. If you're moving, get off the road quickly, and unless you have an extinguisher on the bike, or someone stops with one, grab what you want off the bike, sit down and put your head in your hands and watch her go. You could try and throw dirt or something at it, water from a water bottle, smother it with your leather jacket, etc. but chances are that it is fuel related and the chances of getting it out sans extinguisher are pretty slim. If you can think fast enough, turn the petcocks off and get the machine to where it will cause the least damage or ignite the fewest secondary fires.

 

5.jpg

 

The takeaway from all this? Use common sense. Eliminate as many hazards as possible, use discipline and clean up your area every night. Put things back where they go, separate your combustibles from spark/heat/flame sources and know what to do if all of the above doesn't work and you actually catch something on fire. Who's got stories to tell or advice to share on this subject? Post your best tales of whoa—fuck! in the Close Calls thread in the main forum.




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Comment with Chopcult (15)

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 06:33 am
 

Milk crate full of oily rags, check. Open paint can full of oil, brake fluid, gas, check.
Time to get a metal cabinet for combustables and few more extiguishers. Thanks for the reminder.

Chris

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 06:45 am
 

Remember its not only chemicals that catch fire quick - I was welding with a frayed cotton flannel on (body work - lying on my back) and I noticed a glow after I stopped welding - I had a fireball where the frays were. Just a tip for those of us who don't have leather bibs.... (non frayed cotton doesn't usually catch fire - the hot bits burn right through - protect your frays!)

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 08:26 am
 

This is an excellent article. Last winter I lit one of the barstools in my garage on fire with sparks from grinding. I tried to put the fire out with my hand and only accomplished burning my hand with the melting vinyl covering on the barstool which hurt like hell. Finally I ran out of the garage with the stool and put it outside in the driveway. I have worked in my garage for many years without any major problems, but that moment made me realize how quickly I could have burnt my house down. That stool is still in my garage as a daily reminder. Thank you for the information!

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 09:29 am
 

i need to get a fire extinguisher. post haste.

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 10:31 am
 

I once lit my nipple on fire while grinding.
But somehow I've smoked exactly one million cigarettes while draining gas tanks and never lit my face on fire.

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 11:03 am
 

everyone be carefull out there! look around your garage and get rid of the bad stuff.

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 11:04 am
 

Oh and even though the red head has an extinguisher in her hand ,. she HAS lit my fire.

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 12:49 pm
 

Along the lines of saftey..about a year ago I had the starter Solenoid on my FLH go south. It had started to “stick” until the motor would start which caused the motor to crank even when the starter button wasn’t being pressed. One day the battery finally lost juice before the bike fired, causing the solenoid to remain in the start position, I began to notice a boiling noise coming from the battery. Since I’m a genius I took off my glases and bent down to make sure it was coming from there. Turned out I was right and as soon as I got face to face with the battery it exploded sending boiling acid and sharp pieces of plastic into my eyes, mouth and up my nose. It sounded like a shot gun blast and felt like someone ripped the skin off my face. Instantly blinded, I ran and fell for the dogs water bowl against the wall, which I always seem to find and kick by accident when I walk in drunk and pour into my shoe. As is life, the one time you need to douse your face with filthy dog slobber water there is none in the bowl, he drank it all that day and licked it bone dry. I spike the bowl realizing my face is melting off and start to visualize acid man from Robo Cop, that’s when I feel my throat starting to swell up and realize I could choke out. I just about rip the kitchen door off the hinges with retard panic strength, pull the sinks hose out and start filling my eyes and mouth up with fresh water as I rub the acid off my teeth and lips. I ended up having to call 911on my self sounding like Scuba Steve since I was home alone and then got to enjoy a nice saline solution bath in the back of an ambulance on the way to the ER. I spent the next 2 hours with tubes in my eyes doing an eye flush not knowing if I was going to be blinded for life, lucky I had gotten the acid off in time before it did any major permanent damage to my eyes and face. Moral of the story..stash a gallon of clean water in the garage for that one day, keep the glasses on no matter what, make sure the dogs water bowls filled to the top and stick to kick only bikes with gens and mags.

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 04:35 pm
 

What if you're lighting your farts on fire and your boxers go up in flames? What just asking! Slab city here I come, be cool!

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 04:59 pm
 

I was a firefighter for the U.S.Navy, the aerospace industry, and Mariposa County. This is all good information that can save your home and your butt. Read it and Heed it.

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 06:46 pm
 

I think its also worth mentioning the fumes (smoke) that some of these fires produce. Modern cars produce some of the worst fumes you can breathe, some capable of killing you with one whiff. If something catches on fire, pay close attention NOT to breath that shit in, all smoke is not the same. Also, watch out for struts (the kind that hold the hatchback/ hood up) bumpers etc, as these things have been known to launch when on fire. If your bike catches on fire, please dont park it next to a dry hillside if you can help it, this could eventually cause many more houses/cars/bikes to be on fire and that sucks.

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 07:30 pm
 

Are you shitting me, you put that shit out? What are you fuckin' crazy? Fire rules, it rules, it rules!!!!

Commented on 11-5-2010 At 10:02 pm
 

YIKES,MAY SHOULD THIS NEVEHAPPEN

Commented on 11-7-2010 At 08:23 am
 

All snark aside, this is a great article. This is something you don't think about until you have one of those "AW FUCK!" moments.

Commented on 11-7-2010 At 08:28 am
 

I forgot to mention in my post, thet there is a samll fire extinguisher that looks like a can of hair spray called "Tundra." A stupid name if you ask me. Anyway they retail for about 20 bucks and they look like a good one to carry on the bike.

Tundra, ask for it at fine retailers near you.

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