A Tree Surgeon’s Guide to Fire Safety

Health & Safety

25th March 2019 | Marcus

Have you ever been involved in a fire at work? From personal experience, I can tell you it is a very scary experience. Before you know it, all your normal reactions are gone, and panic sets in with the realisation of what’s going on.

Our woodchipper had worn through one of the hydraulic hoses from the protective guard and the vibration of the machine. The oil then got sprayed onto the hot exhaust, which ignited, and flames started spewing out of the flu.

Fortunately, cutting the engine and reaching for the van fire extinguisher soon put it out, but for a few moments, I was hit with the fear of getting hurt and losing an expensive machine, as well as the embarrassment of looking unprofessional.

How can a fire be prevented?

Fire is an unforgiving event that in most cases could be prevented. It is important to remember the three elements that a fire needs to ignite, as illustrated by the Fire Triangle:



By understanding the three sources, we can evaluate the hazards of tree surgery, while reducing the hazards and risk of fire. Knowing how the fire triangle works also means that we can remove one of the sources and extinguish a fire in the unfortunate event that it happens at work.

In the tree industry, there are many potential sources of ignition, such as hot working machinery. Fuel is evident as we are always working with wood, and working outdoors means oxygen is around us all the time. Working machinery with moving parts like flywheels and fans will move oxygen through the air with more force and can quickly turn a small ignition into a fire.

Putting out a fire

We all know fire extinguishers are the best way to quickly put out the early stages of a fire, but often we don’t know what type of extinguishers should be used for different types of fire as they are all colour coded and designed for different scenarios. Below is a colour coded list of what to use and when:

Type of ExtinguisherClass A

Solid Combustibles

Class B

Flammable Liquids

Class C

Flammable Gases

Class D

Flammable Metals

Electrical FiresClass F

Combustable Cooking Media

Type of Fire/Fuelwood, textiles, straw, paper, coalpetrol, oil, fats, paints, tar, ether, alcohol, stearin, paraffinmethane, propane, hydrogen, acetylene, natural gas, city gasmagnesium, aluminium, lithium, sodium, potassium, allooyscomputers, electrical heaters, stereos, fuse boxeshot cooking oil/grease
X – Do not useX – Do not useX – Do not useX – Do not useX – Do not use
X – Do not useX – Do not use
X – Do not use
CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2)X – Do not use
X – Do not useX – Do not use
X – Do not use
X – Do not use
X – Do not use
X – Do not use
X – Do not useX – Do not useX – Do not useX – Do not use


Remember your extinguishers should be checked visually every month to make sure the pressure is still in the green area of the dial on the extinguisher. They should also be tested by a qualified person and certified once a year.

Never just assume that the extinguisher rattling around behind the seat in the van is okay, as you never know when you may need it, and should you do, you will definitely want it to work.

Fire is always a very harmful hazard to anyone, so the more we can do as individuals to minimise or control the risks is necessary for the wellbeing of both ourselves and the environment.

This is even more pertinent in the summertime. Following the extreme heat in 2018, we had a considerably dry outdoor environment that was at high risk from fire – as a result, we saw some serious fires nationwide.

If everyone just uses a bit of common sense and thinks about how to reduce the potential threat of fire at home and in the workplace, we can all do our part to prevent it.

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