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Fire extinguishers: Your frequently asked questions

How much do you know about fire extinguishers? All businesses must adhere to fire safety regulations and keep relevant fire extinguishers onsite, ensuring that they are easily accessible and in working order in the event of an emergency. With over 45 years’ experience, CheckFire is not only a trusted supplier of fire extinguishers and ancillaries to the trade, but a reliable source of information for all things fire safety.

Here, we provide answers to some of your most frequently asked questions about fire extinguishers.

How fire extinguishers work

Fire extinguishers work by removing one essential component of fire (heat, oxygen or fuel) by either cooling the fire, starving the fire of oxygen or forming a barrier between the fire and fuel. Using a pressurised chemical (propellant) and an extinguishing agent (water, foam, powder, CO2 or wet chemical), fire extinguishers shoot a concentrated stream over several feet, allowing the user to remain at a safe distance from the fire. To use correctly, follow the easy-to-remember PASS method:

– Pull the safety pin

– Aim at the base of the fire

– Squeeze the handle

– Sweep from side to side

The correct fire extinguisher for use is determined according to the type of risk in that particular setting – there’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to fire extinguishers. For example, a water fire extinguisher works by cooling a fire, thus removing one of its essential elements. However, Class B (flammable liquids) or electrical fires are only made worse by water, as it either spreads the flammable liquid or conducts the electrical current. To learn more, download our infographic on which fire extinguishers are suitable for each type of fire.

Can fire extinguishers expire?

Fire extinguishers should be serviced annually to comply with best practice protocol. BS 5306-3 concerns the commissioning and maintenance of fire extinguishers. Most fire extinguishers require an extended service every five years, with the exception being the CO2 fire extinguisher, which needs an extended service every 10 years. The extended service should be carried out by a qualified engineer who will conduct a detailed examination of the fire extinguishers, including a full discharge. From here, depending on the findings of the extended service, the engineer will dictate whether the fire extinguisher is to be refilled or replaced. Choose a trusted and reputable manufacturer for top-quality and high-functioning fire safety products for a long-lasting peace of mind.

Are fire extinguishers required by law?

Fire extinguishers are required by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 and should be placed in areas at risk of fire. The fire extinguishers must be suitable for the type of fire relating to the premises’ risks. Every attention must be paid to the findings of the premises’ fire risk assessment here. The fire risk assessment – conducted by the responsible person or a competent person they appoint – will highlight every fire hazard and associated risks throughout the building. This will in turn inform how many fire extinguishers are required, their type and their placement, and positioning.

Depending on the premises or type of business and work conducted there, different fire extinguishers are required. For example, a restaurant will need to keep a number of fire extinguisher types on the premises, including those suitable for Class A, Class B (flammable liquids, such as spirits), Class F (cooking oils), and electrical fires. All fire extinguishers must be clearly visible and accessible and their positioning communicated to all staff and occupants of the building. Take a look at our fire extinguisher application guide for a clear understanding of classes of fire and suitable fire extinguishers.

Are fire extinguishers flammable?

Fire extinguishers are not flammable. They’re fire tested to ensure naturally high temperatures will not affect their performance, safety or integrity.

Are fire extinguishers hazardous?

Some fire extinguishers can be hazardous if they are used in confined spaces or stored in an unsafe position. When used, the contents of CO2 and powder fire extinguishers can quickly fill a small space and render the user unable to breathe, which is why they should only be used in larger or outdoor areas. British Standards (BS 5306) requires that measures are taken to protect fire safety equipment and reduce the possibility of theft, vandalism and accidental discharge. Fire extinguisher stands and other storage methods will protect the units and the public.

Can fire extinguishers be refilled?

Fire extinguishers can be refilled following their annual service or extended service. However, it is entirely dependent on the findings of the service. This work should only be carried out by a certified engineer, who will confirm whether the fire extinguisher is to be refilled or replaced following its service. Actions will be recorded in the premises’ fire logbook to adhere to fire safety regulations.

Can fire extinguishers explode?

There have been rare cases of fire extinguishers exploding but only when the units have not been serviced and kept in dangerous areas. For example, outdoor fire extinguishers should be safely stored in a cabinet to avoid freezing as the contents will naturally expand and can crack the body. You can also invest in innovative fire extinguishers with additives to prevent freezing.

When should fire extinguishers be inspected?

Fire extinguishers must be inspected once a year by a certified engineer, who will carry out a service and record their findings in the premises’/business’ log book. It is a legal requirement for fire extinguishers to be annually serviced and that could make all the difference in the event of an emergency. As a business or building owner, you are the responsible person to whom the duty falls to arrange servicing of fire extinguishers, and you must ensure this is done by a competent and fully trained technician. You can also carry out frequent visual checks in the meantime.

Where should fire extinguishers be located?

British Standards (BS 5306) stipulates a 30-metre rule. It requires that a person shouldn’t have to travel more than 30 metres from the site of a fire to reach appropriate fire extinguisher. They should be located in safe and easily accessible places, such as communal areas in multi-occupancy residential buildings, near areas at risk of fire. They should be positioned in such a way that encourages people to move towards an exit and along an escape route so, ideally, they’ll be sited near room exits, in corridors or on stairways, for example.

For sector-specific information regarding fire extinguishers and fire safety, visit our resource centre and benefit from a host of support and helpful materials.

The content of the CheckFire blog is for general information purposes only. While we make every effort to ensure accuracy at the time of publication, under no circumstances should it be considered professional advice. Any reliance you place on the information is at your own risk. Always seek the advice of a fire professional for your particular circumstances and requirements.
  • by Amy Moseley

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