Workshop safety...don't be too cheap!!!!

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Mar 19, 2005
As most of you who have followed this forum for the last couple of years will have noticed, I do most of my misguided attempts at contributing to this forum at about three in the morning, when something is bothering me and I can’t sleep. Another one of those thankfully rare nights has raised its evil head and struck, so here I am. There has happened something that I think is worth sharing with you all and I have to give it a go.

About one thirty yesterday afternoon, I sat at the computer , upstairs in the office and there came a knock on the door downstairs. The lady from the packet delivery service had come and I had a packet from eBay to sign for. This happens often, and I have struck up a bit of a “Hi, how are you doing” with her. There was a bit of fog in the air outside and a strong stink of someone burning trash somewhere in town. This is a smell that I have smelled quite a number of times, and just one of those things you bitch about, and never actually complain to the person doing it. Life is that way in a small town where everybody lives so close together. Most won’t say anything to a neighbour, as no one needs a war in the neighbourhood. So we mentioned it and then we said goodbye and I said thanks and I went back to the computer.

About five minutes later, the fire alarms went off in town. I looked at the clock on Windows and saw that it was definitely not noon or sometime when there might be a test of the siren. The siren went off a couple more times and then it was time to go to the door and see what was up. I’m not a member of the volunteer fire department, but in the middle of the week, there just aren’t too many of the members around and home, so you have to see if you can help and take up the slack. I have never had to before.

Looked out the door and to the right, at the next house, stood the old man and the daughter. Her jumping up and down, crying and screaming and pointing into the courtyard. Him just standing and looking into the courtyard. I run towards them, look around the corner, and the shit had hit the fan. The back of the house area, the workshop, had flames coming out of the door. Not a word to be said at that time, so I run back into our house, into our courtyard and into the cellar and grab the rolled up hose, out to the spigot and connect fast, into the house and turn on the hose (its January, the water is off), and into the garage grab the ladder, out again, ladder against the shed wall, throw the hose up, climb up and get onto the neighbours garage roof and pull the hose up and from the roof start with the garden hose trying to douse the flames. There is naturally a space of 6 meters or so to spray over and I’m above the level of the door, so I can’t get too far into the building. One volunteer fireman has arrived, a young kid who had hooked up a hose somewhere in the street and he went to it too. His hose was too short and he couldn’t get to the door either and half the door was also closed with the biggest fire behind it. The water went on by past the flames to the other side of the room. The siren is still going, and it went for a good hour at least, but I didn’t have time to think about this. The lady from the pub was pulling hoses out that someone carried from the fire house down the street…the old man just stood and looked (shock) and the family went on screaming and the crowd grew. A number of towners took up tasks, the volunteers started to arrive, but the fire was spreading out of the range where we could have gotten it under control without help from the big boys. Too little water and too short hoses. Someone remembered to shut off the big liquid gas tank behind the house, parts of the workshop were falling out of the building, maybe thirty people were running about and a lot of just plain panic. The flames started to come out of the outside of the roof, behind where the building meets the other neighbours barn on the other side.

The fire was all going away from my house and instead in the other direction. The hose again was not long enough and me and another got into the fishpond there in the garden and started with buckets to throw water where the hose just couldn’t reach. Didn’t do a bit of good. I’m still at that point in my slippers and soaked up to the knees. More firemen arrived, in all 8 towns turned up and a good hundred firemen. The area where the workshop roof is attached to the main house started to have smoke billowing from the joint and the main house was so full of smoke that no one without a gas mask with an oxygen tank could have gone in there. We tried, but no go, closed the door again. The volunteers tried to get to the back of the house and spray from there, but that side was blocked by the next neighbours gate and they had to rip it apart and use chain saws to get in there. The courtyard there hadn’t been used in years, and had trees growing up in there, so they had to cut trees down to get into that barn, which had now started to burn too. The place was crawling with volunteers, mayors from the neighbouring towns, the police, the criminal police, and the rescue squad to take the old man away. He is still in intensive care by the way. This was just a nightmare.

They are still over there, at three, doing an all-night fire watch. The main house did not burn, but was filled with water and the floors have caved in in places, as they are built with clay and straw…the method of building when the house was built in the early 18 hundreds. Remains to be seen if the house can be saved. The workshop is a complete loss, the new motorbike in there is burned to a pile of metal…literally a pile, about 10 inches high. I offered any neighborly help I could, as one should. The young man whose bike it is somehow found the strength to laugh and ask if I would rebuild his bike for him.

I’m sure a few of you have wondered what this has to do in a Norton forum. There is though a point to all this.

There was no fire extinguisher in the shop.

Spend the twenty dollars and put one by the door on the wall.

Workshop safety...don't be too cheap!!!!

Workshop safety...don't be too cheap!!!!

Workshop safety...don't be too cheap!!!!
Whoa Hewho... what a night.
Good point about the extinguisher, i've always been too tight to get one, might be time to think again.
First time i've noticed the new avatar, you're looking younger :lol:
Invest the price of a case of beer.....

May not be as young as in the the Avatar...could be.:wink:

Take the point I tried to make though, and run with it...get a good extinguisher for gasoline type fires and a smoke detector. No one who went through what I went through yesterday will ever tell you different. It will be worth it. Most of us are unable to learn from the mistakes of others, but give it a try...this time...all of you.

Update....their grandson is still in hospital for smoke inhalation, old man is better, dog and cat have returned from hiding somewhere but the two birds died.
Several years ago a friend was starting his Rocket Gold Star inside his garage. It backfired and fuel from a leaking petcock ignited and suddenly there were three foot high flames threatening to ignite the ceiling.

He and another friend were frantically trying to beat out the flame with their shirts and move the bike out of the garage, while I ran back to my car to get the extinguisher I always carry. They got the bike out without setting the garage and house on fire and my extinguisher took care of the flames.

Since then, I have a rule. Never start a bike inside the shop unless absolutely necessary. If you do start one inside, check the fuel lines before starting and have a 20# extinguisher within arms reach. I have four 20# ABC rated extinguishers in my little shop. One in each corner. This might be overkill, but the shop is crowded and this assures I can reach one within seconds.
In addtion to having a fire extinguisher handy, I also:

Lug my benchgrinder (and its stand) outdoors to do any major grinding

Bought one of those fireproof cans for oily rags

Use extra caution with either a soldering iron, or heat gun after using them, so I don't set them somewhere I shouldn't

You can't be too careful!

Don W
downside of no fire extinguisher

this is what can happen when you don't have one handy.

this is (was) my 650 SS and what can happen with a combination of:
- leaky petcock
- no air filter
- a backfire

Workshop safety...don't be too cheap!!!!

it was not a happy day around my house. I now have a fire extinguisher (actually several)


Here's an excert from my next book "Bikes I've Owned & Ridden":

My favorite brother-in-law, Bill, has a friend who offered me his '75 Honda CB550 (now how could I pass that up - I already had the shop manual and everything!) and a '72 CB750 for only $250. This necessitated my purchase of the first motorcycle trailer I have ever owned - a three-bike model with no ramp (ouch - my back).

The first thing I did when I got that 550 home was dump some oil into it, dropped in a battery, patched up the tires and poured about two gallons of gas into it. As soon as it would start up and idle, I hollered to my wife "let's go!" and no sooner had she hopped on the back then I noticed a small flame licking my thigh as I reached for the kickstand. Apparently the crankcase was blowing oil out the breather which had been eliminated, dumping oil all over the carbs and electrical area, a slight backfire or the hot exhaust setting it off.

"Get off!" I yelled as I pushed one way and jumped the other; the bike wooshed into full blaze as those two gallons of gas squirted out the double petcock like two torch-tips. My Dad heard the commotion and ran over to see what was going on as I yelled at Sally to get a fire extinguisher or hose or whatever. Without the slightest hesitation she pulled off her skirt (she had on a slip, thank goodness) and proceeded to try to smother the flames until I told her it was too much for that method, so she pulled it back on still smoldering and took off for the hose.

About that time my Dad showed up with the extinguisher from his truck (by now the flames were about 4 - 5 feet high) and popped the cap off, it gave one mighty squirt of yellow stuff and died. As Sally rushed over with the hose and started to spray the flames, Dad ran into the kitchen for another extinguisher. I took over the hose, (did you know that water doesn't do much for gas fires?) and hollered at Sally to get the extinguisher from our kitchen.

Here came Dad again, this time with a slightly larger extinguisher that lasted about two squirts. Now the flames were fully 8 feet high and the gas tank had puffed out into a weird opened-up shape with those twin torches really blazing - I'm surprised that thing never blew up! Finally, Sally arrived with our industrial-sized extinguisher and within a minute or two, the fire was out.

The seat was a crispy critter, along with all the electrics, brand new $30 battery, all the rubber and plastic associated with the carbs, and most of the back tire and foot pegs; the rest of the bike was a yellow, powdery mess. This bike was henceforth called “Fireball”. (I've since sold it).
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