Ask Angela: What should we do if there’s a dumpster fire?

Angela Phillips is a Senior Account Manager III at ZTERS. She helps customers with some of their most challenging site service issues, and she answers your questions here on our website.

Angela, this question isn’t meant to be funny, but what if we have a dumpster fire?

Thanks for asking this question – dumpster fires can and do happen. We had a customer not too long ago who had a major fire in a dumpster. Luckily, no one was hurt. But dumpster fires can be deadly, and they can definitely cause a lot of damage. In fact, Fire Engineering Magazine reported on a dumpster fire that caused an explosion at a manufacturing plant. Several firefighters were injured, and unfortunately one person died of their injuries.

To start, let’s talk about dumpster safety. Here are some basic tips for reducing dumpster fire hazard risks:

  • Never dispose of hazardous or flammable materials in a dumpster. There are better, more secure ways to dispose of these items, and we’re working on a guide for that. In the meantime, here are some items you shouldn’t throw in dumpsters.
  • Keep the area clear around the dumpster. If a fire starts outside the dumpster, you don’t want nearby materials igniting and spreading into the dumpster.
  • Post no smoking signs near the dumpster and make sure any employees or building tenants know not to throw lit cigarette butts in or near the dumpster. It only takes one carelessly tossed cigarette to start a fire.

If you do have a dumpster fire, don’t try to extinguish it yourself – call 911. If your dumpster has a hinged lid and you’re able to safely close it, go ahead and close it to help prevent the fire from spreading. Don’t endanger yourself or others, though.  

If the lid is already closed, but you know a fire is burning inside, do not open the lid! Leave it closed and wait for firefighters. Opening the lid could create a backdraft, which would be far more dangerous.

Dumpster fires almost always destroy the dumpster – the lid may melt off if it’s plastic, and any paint or decals will likely be destroyed. The dumpster itself may warp. If any of these things happen, and it’s a rental, contact the rental company after the fire is safely extinguished.

Safety is the first priority during a dumpster fire. After that, there will more than likely be a fire investigation and depending on the circumstances, you may end up owing damages.

The best advice – and this is true for all aspects of life – is to avoid dumpster fires to begin with.

Have you ever had a dumpster fire, or do you have tips for preventing them? Leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.