TORONTO — Ontario’s Fire Marshal is urging all Ontarians to follow the recommendations of medical and health professionals on how to use and clean personal protective equipment (PPE) and stresses that microwave ovens should never be used to sterilize a face mask.
“Heating a face mask in a microwave, in an effort to decontaminate it, is a potential fire risk and should never be done,” said Jon Pegg, Ontario Fire Marshal, in response to suggestions that microwaves can be used to sterilize masks for re-use.
Microwave ovens are not designed to heat cloth materials, so there is a risk of the mask overheating and catching fire. Many disposable masks also have a metal nose wire or staples holding the straps which can cause sparks or a fire if heated in a microwave.
The Fire Marshal is reminding everyone that fire safety is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic when so many families are staying at home and doing more cooking. Ontarians need to be especially vigilant about fire prevention as fire and smoke can travel so quickly that firefighters may not be able to rescue someone in time.
“There have been 51 fire fatalities between Jan. 1 and May 4, a 65 % increase over the same time period last year, with 17 Ontarians dying in fires this past March alone,” noted Pegg.
To reduce potential fire risks in your home:
- Always stay in the kitchen when you are cooking – unattended cooking is a leading cause of home fires
- Keep a close eye on anyone drinking alcohol while attempting to cook or smoke
- Encourage smokers to smoke outside the home and garage and thoroughly extinguish all smoking materials in water or sand
- Always blow out candles before leaving the room or going to bed
- Avoid overloading electrical outlets and running electrical cords under rugs or furniture which can damage the cords and cause a fire
- Ensure items that can burn are at least one metre away from space heaters
- Test your alarms by pressing the test button – only working smoke alarms give you the early warning required to safely escape a fire in your home
- Practice your home fire escape plan and make sure everyone knows two ways out of each room, if possible
- Keep all exits clear of obstructions that might hinder a safe escape.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, personal use of alcohol-based hand sanitizer has received considerable attention as one method of helping to prevent the spread of the virus. Hand sanitizer has also received much attention recently through both traditional and social media, with claims that containers of hand sanitizer will catch fire or spontaneously combust if left in a hot vehicle.
Engineers with the Office of the Fire Marshal (OFM) Investigations Services have looked into this concern and advise that the rate of vapour leakage from a personal container of hand sanitizer left in a hot vehicle would not result in sufficient vapour density to fall within flammable limits in air. This supports information posted by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that says it is not unsafe to leave hand sanitizer in a hot vehicle. This article can be viewed at the following link: https://community.nfpa.org/community/nfpa-today/blog/2020/05/22/can-hand-sanitizer-spontaneously-combust.
OFM engineers do urge that containers should be kept in an upright position and properly sealed to avoid spillage. As an added precaution, containers of hand sanitizers left in a vehicle should be kept out of direct sunlight to avoid leakage from over-pressurization of the container. People should be reminded that these products are flammable, and it is imperative that they read and follow directions and warnings on the labels.
The OFM technical guideline OFM-TG-02-2011, Safe Practices for the Use of Alcohol-Based Hand Rub addresses use and storage issues in care and treatment occupancies such as hospitals, homes for special care and long-term care homes. The principles outlined in this guideline may be equally applicable to other occupancies in which residents receive some form of special or supervisory care such as retirement homes and group homes. These principles may be similarly extended to community health clinics and related occupancies. Information in the guideline related to avoiding open flames and sources of ignition are general enough in nature to be considered as best practices in any scenario.
In addition to the information above, the OFM has prepared the following Questions and Answers to assist fire departments in responding to fire safety concerns and enquiries related to the safe use and storage of alcohol-based hand sanitizers:
Q. 1 Is hand sanitizer flammable?
A. 1 Alcohol-based hand sanitizer is flammable and may give off flammable vapours which could ignite if exposed to open flame or an ignition source. Caution should be used to keep away from open flames and avoid sources of heat. Product label warnings should be carefully read and followed.
Q. 2 Is it safe to smoke after using hand sanitizer?
A. 2 Hand sanitizer is flammable and may give off flammable vapours. It should be kept away from open flames and sources of heat. When using hand sanitizer, hands should be rubbed together until they are completely dry. People should be especially careful if attempting to smoke, light candles, or use a gas stove immediately after applying hand sanitizer.
Q. 3 Is it safe to leave hand sanitizer in a hot vehicle?
A. 3 According to the OFM and the NFPA, hand sanitizer will not spontaneously combust or explode if left in a hot vehicle. Containers should be kept in an upright position and properly sealed to avoid leakage. Containers should not be left in direct sunlight, as an added precaution, to avoid spillage or leakage from pressurization of the container. Product label warnings should be carefully read and followed.