RE: [Histonet] alcohol lamps

From:"Smith, Allen"

I have worried about this possibility. This is why I use a stamped steel alcohol lamp. The larger fire was the result of poor communication. Before lighting, I announce: I am about to strike a match.  All solvents must be covered!  (By the way, where was that lab's fire extinguisher?)

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Jackie M O'Connor
Sent: Monday, July 28, 2008 3:41 PM
Subject: Re: [Histonet] alcohol lamps

In 1971 in Chicago, there was a fire in a histology lab in Chicago because
of an alcohol lamp.   The ignited lamp was knocked off the bench, fell to
the floor, jar broke, all the spilled alcohol was ignited over a large
area which went on to ignite another open container of another flammable
on the floor (cleaning xylene, I think).   A terrible fire resulted.  Two
techs were badly burned, since there was only one door to the lab, they
had to run through the fire to get out (lab was on the 9th floor).   I
don't know who they were, or how they are now - but I was the technician
who went to work there after the fire.
Jackie O'
Sent by:
07/28/2008 01:29 PM


[Histonet] alcohol lamps

    About ten years ago, in setting up a new histology laboratory,
management, techs, pathologists and I had this discussion.  Safety
regulations require no open flames in a laboratory area due to the
explosion capabilities as well as the fire hazards.  I had already told
the techs we would not be using the alcohol lamps and we did not install
gas lines in the new facility build out.  This was already determined by
the pathology group before the building commenced.
   There were 2-3 older techs (like me) who preferred to use the flames to
clear the forceps of contamination from tissue and paraffin before
embedding a new block.  Yes, it is faster, however, very dangerous.  i,
too had done it for millenimum as you w/o risk.  Management thought they
would get on the good side of the techs and surprise them with alcohol
burners.  I discovered this before the techs came in and removed the
alcohol lamps.  Thank goodness, the head pathologist backed me up.  As a
post-doc he had a horrific personal experience in having an alcohol lamp
ignite his lab coat when he accidentally brushed his sleeve across it.  He
understood the implications of the open flame in the lab.  Also, where
there  are alcohols,  xylenes or other similar flammable solvents around,
the vapors could accidentally build up to create an easily combustible
situation.  So, the techs learned to use lots of Kim Wipes on the forceps
before placing them in the warmers and to use Q-tips to k
eep the warmers clear of tissue pieces that could contaminate a block.
And, over time, it really does not slow you down that much in the
embedding process.
    It is a change to not use the alcohol burners; however, the safety
benefits far outweigh the hazards imposed by the open flame.  And, as is
often the case, the embedding person may be the only one in the laboratory
EARLY in the morning and no one would know there was a fire until it might
be too late.

Sharon Osborn, BS, HT(ASCP) C
Lab Vision
Fremont, CA

Date: Mon, 28 Jul 2008 11:21:28 -0500
From: "Peterson, Dan" <>
Subject: [Histonet] Alcohol lamps
Message-ID: <328CBAE62F31C642B422970E879DFADC01A80301@pcwex01>
Content-Type: text/plain;                charset="us-ascii"

Fellow Histonetters,
I am in disagreement with our lab's Safety officer with regards to
alcohol lamps. We use them in our embedding area to keep our forceps
The officer says that they're a fire hazard (even though we've used them
without incident for over 30 yrs). There are no flammable reagents
(other than the alcohol in the lamp) near the embedding area. I know we
could use the warming wells on the embedders, but try to find more that
1 pair of forceps that you like, or better yet, try to find a forceps
that the tech before hasn't left paraffin all over it. (Yes, I am a
fussy old goat, 27 yrs of Histo, with my 1 favorite pair that NOBODY
Petty issue? Are there others out there using lamps? I am willing to
change if necessary (or so ordered), but would like to hear from those
who do the work, not be told what to do by those who know nothing of the
work. Thanks in advance!!

Daniel R Peterson HT(ASCP)
Histopathology Section Head
Meriter Laboratories

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