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By Ashley Hickling, Fire Sales Manager of Stanley Security
You probably walk past the fire extinguishers in your premises every day without a thought. But those little devices are primed and ready for action when needed. But are you? Do you know how to use one? Do you know which types you should be using? How often should they be serviced? And what to do with out of date ones? Ashley answers the most commonly asked questions. You may never look at a fire extinguisher in quite the same way!
Even if your premises are kitted out with the latest fire detection and suppressant systems, fire extinguishers are an essential asset when it comes to proofing your building against a fire emergency.
They can help control small outbreaks of fire quickly, preventing flames from spreading and causing more damage. In more severe emergencies, fire extinguishers can save lives, helping keep an evacuation route clear and providing crucial access to escape points.
“The Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) estimated that 60% of private businesses never recover from a fire.”
In the UK and Wales, The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 includes the present fire extinguisher rules that you’ll need to abide by. A good fire company can explain what you need to comply with the Order, but if you are responsible for fire safety in your organisation you must have a basic understanding of fire extinguishers. That has to start with an understanding of fire itself.
Classes of Fire
There’s no smoke without fire, or so the saying goes. If only it were that simple. True, the two go hand in hand, but you may be surprised to realise there are different types of fire, with different characteristics. Some fires smoulder with large amounts of smoke and others are the opposite – fast flaming fires with almost invisible smoke. Here are the six classes of fire pertinent to most standard commercial premises:
- Class A – fires involving solid materials such as wood, paper or textiles.
- Class B – fires involving flammable liquids such as petrol, diesel or oils.
- Class C – fires involving gases.
- Class D – fires involving metals.
- Electrical Fires – fires involving live electrical apparatus (it doesn’t get an ‘official’ category)
- Class F – fires involving cooking oils such as in deep-fat fryers.
Class A is the most common fire type, but walking around your premises you should be able to identify areas where other fire types might arise.
Matching the Fire with the Fire Extinguisher
Over the years, different types of fire extinguisher have been developed to deal with the different fire types. Here are the types of fire extinguisher, their colour code (put on the extinguisher for quick identification) and what types of fire they are suitable for:
- Water (red label): Class A only
- Water Mist (white label): All classes
- Foam (cream label): Class A & B
- Dry Powder (blue label): Class A, B, C & some electrical
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) (black label): Class B & electrical
- Wet Chemical (yellow label): Class A & F
At present, UK rules require you to have a minimum of two water extinguishers on each level of the building, typically located by exits and fire alarm call points. However, a combination of one water and one CO2 or foam fire extinguisher is a common approach as the latter can be used to safely extinguish electrical fires without any damage to electrical equipment, which is present in most buildings.
Whilst dry powder extinguishers on the surface look suitable to cover a range of fires, it should be noted that these are not ideal for enclosed spaces as the powder is easily inhaled and the residue is not easy to clean up.
If you are, however, looking for a fire extinguisher that covers all the standard fire types then Water Mist extinguishers are for you. One of the newer technologies on the market, Water Mist extinguishers release microscopic particles of water that suffocate a fire rather than douse it. As they can be used for all fire types, they are ideal for using in areas that have multiple fire risks, rather than requiring multiple fire extinguisher types.
The Life of a Fire Extinguisher
Let’s face it, most fire extinguishers will never do a day’s work in their lives…and that’s the way you want it! However, should you have need of them you want them ready to work at a moment’s notice.
To ensure they work, they need to be serviced every twelve months or after each use. They must be replaced at the end of their lives which is ten years for CO2 extinguishers and 15 years for all others. Even if your extinguisher hasn’t been used or is new, check it regularly and get it replaced if you notice any of the following characteristics.
- The hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped, or blocked with debris.
- The locking pin on the handle is missing or unsealed.
- The handle is wobbly or broken.
- The inspection sticker or hang tag, with a record of check-ups and maintenance, is missing.
If you do have to dispose of your extinguisher, then do not put it out with your rubbish. If you have very small premises with just a couple of fire extinguishers then you could take them to a local recycling centre where staff will know what to do with them, but do check with your council first. By far the easiest option is to arrange for disposal by a recognised and licensed disposal company, who will make it safe before removing it and make sure you get a Waste Transfer Note as proof.
Using Your Fire Extinguisher
Of course, it’s not just your fire extinguisher that needs to be ready in the event of a fire – you do too. The good news is that fire extinguishers are easy to use, mostly with the P.A.S.S. method:
- Pull the pin on the fire extinguisher to interrupt the tamper seal.
- Aim the fire extinguisher low, with the nozzle pointed at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the handle of the fire extinguisher to unleash the termination agent.
- Sweep the nozzle from side to side at the bottom of the fire until it’s extinguished.
If the fireplace re-ignites, repeat the last three steps.
Ultimately, for maximum safety, convenience and to ensure you fully execute your duty of responsibility, employing the services of a professional fire company to deal with your fire extinguisher needs is the sensible approach and one that most organisations take. Look for a accompany that is accredited with Fire BAFE SP203-1, NSI Gold and ISO 9001 which prove they have been trained and regulated in all areas of fire system design, installation, commissioning and maintenance. Stanley Security is fully accredited and also provides 24/7 monitoring for fire systems through our NSI Gold Approved Monitoring Centre located in the UK.
Fire Extinguishers: what, where, why & how
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