Fire Extinguisher Myths Answered

We asked Anthony Buck BSc (hon) CMIOSH MIFPO, who is a Qualified Extinguisher Service Technician and one of the most knowledgeable fire extinguisher experts we know to write us a post about a few fire extinguisher myths.

This ‘FAQ’ document sets out to dispel incorrect information often given to uses about fire extinguishers by suppliers/maintainers/health & safety staff

1. Fire extinguishers must be replaced after 10 years

Answer – No

There is no statutory maximum service life for a fire extinguisher. Some bodies recommend a 20 year limit, but in practice an extinguisher can continue in service indefinitely whilst:

  • Parts remain available
  • The extinguisher has no damage, defect or corrosion rendering it unsafe for use
  • It is not an Obsolescent type (see below)
  • It is serviced, including extended services and for CO2 statutory overhaul, as required

2. If a fire extinguisher hasn’t been serviced for a few years it must be replaced

Answer – No

It just means that a service is all the more urgent. As long parts are available and it passes it’s basic, extended service or overhaul (as required) and is not Obsolescent it can continue to be used

3. Old colour coded extinguishers are obsolete and must be replaced.

Answer – No

Many pre BS EN3 extinguishers still have suitable spares & parts available and can continue in service as long as in serviceable condition.

4. Fire extinguishers must be replaced at their 5 yearly Extended Service interval as it’s not cost effective to carry this out

Answer – No

What they mean is it’s too time consuming for them to carry out this test & they’d rather just replace it. The actual cost of carrying out an extended service is less than replacement, particularly for water and foam types – the actual ‘cost’ price in parts & refills to Extended Service a water extinguisher is less than £5.

5. Stainless steel/polished finish extinguishers are illegal

Answer – No

Although they cannot be kite marked to BS EN3 due to their colour, they remain perfectly legal as long as new models are CE marked; and are preferred where aesthetics are important. A competent fire risk assessment can justify their use, normally where signage & staff awareness is in place.

6. CO2 extinguishers must have a 5 year extended service

Answer – No

For a short time around 2000 the servicing standard BS 5306-3 did require this, but after feedback from manufacturers this was removed in the 2003 revision as not required or of value

7. CO2 extinguishers must be replaced after 10 years

Answer – No

It may be more profitable and less time consuming for the engineer to do this, but what is required at 10 years is an Overhaul, which includes a hydraulic pressure test of the cylinder (to meet requirements of Pressure systems legislation) and new valve. An overhaul is better for the environment, recycling an existing cylinder and cheaper than a new extinguisher, which only has 10 years before overhaul anyway – there is no longer a lifespan advantage.

8. Every ‘kitchen’ requires a fire blanket and powder extinguisher

Answer – No

Extinguisher provision is risk based and most ‘kitchens’ in premises are just tea points with kettle, microwave, dishwasher, etc. A fire blanket is not needed if there is no small Class F risk, i.e. no cooker with hobs that a chip pan or frying pan could be used on. A powder extinguisher is not very effective on enclosed electrical equipment such as microwaves and causes severe secondary damage and CO2 is more appropriate. Full working kitchens will require Wet Chemical extinguishers if fryers are in use.

9. Fire extinguisher service personnel are experts

Answer – No

The fire trade is sales driven and there are no requirements to hold any qualification in extinguisher maintenance or, as important, to attend refreshers. For every competent engineer there are several who are unqualified or cut corners, or will use any excuse to sell new equipment. Care must be taken when choosing a provider and should you require to know your extinguisher requirements a competent fire risk assessor is a more unbiased source of advice.

10. Is my extinguisher engineer servicing my equipment properly?

Answer – Maybe yes, maybe no

Corners are sometimes cut to save time/money or through ignorance. Some staff just ‘shine & sign’, a term for wiping the extinguisher down so it looks like it’s been attended to and filling in the label. Things to look for:

If any of these activities were not done and the original extinguisher remains, then they are not correctly serviced. Likewise not performing an extended service at the correct interval is also negligent.

Label terminology: A correctly completed service label should include:

  • Date (year and month)
  • Type of service- Initial, Basic, Extended, Recharge or Overhaul. NOT obsolete terms such as Serviced (S), Inspected (I), Discharge Test (DT) which suggest a lack of refresher training.
  • Weight in kg
  • Next extended service or Overhaul date
  • iv. Other checks. Many other factors can be checked by suitably trained auditors such as the author of this guide

11. What genuine reasons for condemning an extinguisher exist

Answer – Even correctly serviced equipment will deteriorate to an unsafe condition and reach end of life. The only reasons are:

  • i. corrosion, wear or damage to threads of any pressure retaining part
  • ii. corrosion of welds
  • iii. extensive general corrosion or severe pitting;
  • iv. significant dents or gouges in the body
  • v. fire damage to the body or body fittings
  • vi. any split in a plastics lining, or any significant bubbling or lifting from the metal of a plastics lining
  • vii. corrosion of the metal body under a plastics lining
  • viii. corrosion of the metal body under a zinc or tin/lead lining
  • ix. overpainting or application of any other coating, film or colouring to any plastics component that could be subject to pressure
  • x. UV degradation of plastics components
  • xi. illegible marking or operating instructions
  • xii. instructions not in English

12. What genuine reasons for replacing an extinguisher due to Obsolescence exist?

Answer – Eventually an extinguisher will become obsolete for a variety of reasons, usually relating to availability of parts, ineffectiveness or safety concerns. Types included are;

  • i. chemical foam extinguishers
  • ii. soda acid extinguishers
  • iii. extinguishers with a riveted body shell
  • iv. extinguishers with a plastics body shell
  • v. extinguishers that require inversion to operate
  • vi. non-refillable extinguishers that have reached their expiry date
  • vii. extinguishers for which parts are no longer available and servicing cannot be completed
  • viii. halon extinguishers (prohibited by statute)
  • ix. extinguishers manufactured after 2002 which do not carry a CE mark This excludes refurbished extinguishers (see Note).NOTE Refurbished extinguishers cannot carry the CE mark and cannot be condemned for not carrying it.
  • i. All new extinguishers require Commissioning by a competent person. This has been introduced due to the growth in internet sales. Often extinguishers are supplied to users in their original factory cartons and are not fully assembled. This has led to extinguishers in use that were defective or dangerous due to incorrect or non assembly by unqualified users and difficulties I ongoing maintenance due to vital information about the extinguisher’s age, mass, etc not being recorded
  • ii. A tolerance of +/- 1 month is given for annual Basic Servicing, so that a few weeks delay in a service visit is no longer a non conformity
  • iii. Due to it being impossible to determine if a plastic headcap has suffered internal cracking from impact or degradation from UV light or chemicals unless it fails during discharge (a safety risk), extinguishers with such headcaps must have them replaced at ever 5 year Extended Service. Some service companies for their convenience will suggest total replacement, but in reality for the many models where the parts are still available it is cheaper for the user to simply replace the headcap
  • iv. Additional safety reasons to condemn an extinguisher – see ix to xii in Paragraph 12 above
  • v. Additional extinguishers that cannot be serviced due to Obsolescence/Nonconformity – see ix in Paragraph 13 above
  • vi. A more detailed description of the requirements to become a Competent Person

KFC – Keep Frying correctly

Frying tonight – the ‘f’ class fire classification

Over 10 years ago a new classification of fire was introduced for fires involving cooking oils, however there is still some ignorance around the need to have specialised equipment to safely tackle fires in this category and many establishments remain unprotected against this dangerous fire risk


For fire fighting purposes fires have been classified, first under BD 4547 and now EN2, according to the main type of fuel involved.

Class A – fires involving flammable solids

Class B – fires involving flammable liquids and liquefiable solids

Class C – fires involving flammable gases

Class D – fires involving flammable metals

Class F – fires involving cooking oils and fats

There used to be a Class E for electrical fires, but this was discontinued as electricity doesn’t burn – an electrical fire can involve any of the above classes, with the presence of electricity being an additional hazard rather than a fuel. Fires where electricity are present are still categorised separately on extinguisher labels so that a non-conductive agent that is safe for use where a live electrical supply is involved can be identified.

Cooking oils and fats were traditionally part of Class B, along with substances like petrol and spirits. However a major difference in how they burn means that normal agents for Class B fires are ineffective. Most flammable liquids, such as petrol or heptane (which is used for fire test rating of Class B extinguishers), burn around 50 degrees Centigrade. However, cooking oil fires commonly start when the oil is heated to past it’s auto-ignition temperature, usually between 285 & 385 degrees Centigrade, but sometimes up to 499 degrees Centigrade. The oil burns at this temperature, but it’s auto-ignition temperature is reduced (by this burning) by about 30 degrees Centigrade. Thus, the fire will be self sustaining unless it’s temperature is significantly reduced. This high temperature makes the fires very dangerous and presents problems when trying to use normal extinguishing methods on these fires. A tble at the end of this article summarises the problems with traditional agents.

Case studies

The following case studies illustrate the problem when using traditional agents.

  1. South Mimms Service Area – A fast food restaurant’s fryer caught fire and was immediately tackled with CO2 extinguishers. These had no effect and the fire spread to the ductwork. The entire service area burnt down as a result.
  2. Heathrow Terminal One – A fast food restaurant’s fryer caught fire and was immediately tackled with CO2 extinguishers. These had no effect and the fire spread to the ductwork. The terminal was severely damaged. Millions of pounds were lost through damage and disruption.
  3. Royals Shopping Centre – A fryer caught fire in one of the units and was immediately tckled with two fire blankets. One was too small, the other burnt through. Despite the rapid attendance of the fire service and the use of a fixed BC Powder extinguishing system the fire was only just contained with great difficulty.

Following lobbying by the fire industry, Class F, a new fire classification, was introduced for all fires involving cooking oils.

A new symbol for use on extinguishers, depicting a burning frying pan with the letter F in the top right corner, was also introduced.

The only type of extinguisher to be Class F rated is the Wet Chemical extinguisher. This contains an alkaline liquid solution of up to 20% potassium salts (potassium acetate, potassium citrate, potassium carbonate) and it is the unique effect of these salts on the fats in cooking oils that is the key to their effectiveness.

Wet Chemical saponifies the oil, i.e. by hydrolysis rapidly converts the burning substance to a non-combustible soap. This process is endothermic, meaning it absorbs thermal energy from its surroundings, decreasing the temperature and eliminating the fire. The soapy scum formed also secures vapours and generates steam, assisting the extinction further.

Even a raging fryer with 75 litres of oil can be extinguished in under 2 seconds, however the entire extinguisher must be discharged onto the oil to ensure a complete crusting of the surface and maximise cooling.

Potassium salts had been used in the US for many years in the form of ‘loaded stream’ extinguishers for greater effectiveness on Class A fires and it was the US who developed the first Wet Chemical extinguishers for cooking oil fires in the 1990’s

Chubb Fire first introduced US made Badger Wet Chemical extinguishers to the UK in the late 1990’s, followed by the UK base of the US firm Amerex and currently there are several manufactures of these extinguishers around the world.

In the UK Wet Chemical extinguishers are made to BS 7937: 2000 and are identifiable by a Canary Yellow panel to the front of the extinguisher and the class F symbol. They bear a Fire Rating based on the maximum size, in litres of oil, the extinguisher can extinguished when used by a skilled operator. A typical 6 or 9 litre extinguisher would be rated 13A:75F (the water base makes it suitable for Class A fires as well)

Because they discharge as a fine mist they pass the 35kv conductivity test for extinguishers and can be used in the presence of energised electrical equipment, although care needs to be taken with pools of agent on the floor.

The cost of the agent makes them slightly dearer than traditional extinguishers and to make them available to smaller establishments are produced in a range of sizes with ratings from 25F to 75F. The German manufacturer Total has a compact 2 litre model with an impressive 40F rating.

Comparison of agents

Extinguishing media Effectiveness on Class F fires
Light duty fire blanket BSEN1869 Only tested and effective on small cooking oil fires up to 3 litres and containers of no more than 345mm diameter.Difficult to apply as requires getting close to the fire. Can eventually burn through or sink into the burning oil
Water/water additive Water mixes with the fat, boils and the steam ejects burning fat
Aspirated Foam Branchpipe Used to be used in kitchens, not commonly available now. Requires skilled application and high delivery rates as the extreme heat destroys the foam blanket
Foam Spray The extreme heat breaks up the extinguishing film preventing it sealing off the fire
CO2 The gas is readily dispersed by the air currents produced by the raging fire and the lack of cooling action means the oil remains at auto ignition temperature
ABC Dry powder (Acidic Ammonium Phosphate) In virtually all current powder extinguishers. Being acidic cannot saponify the oil and although the flames may be temporarily knocked down the oil reignites as the extinguisher runs out
BC Dry powder (alkaline sodium bicarbonate) Used to be used in most powder extinguishers and does have some effect, but requires several larger extinguishers and there is a re-ignition risk
Halon 1211 BCF Illegal except for exempted special users.


This is a guest post from Anthony Buck of

Anthony’s knowledge of UK fire extinguishers and the Regulations is unsurpassed

Do I need …..Fire Extinguishers?


So many people seem to be asking me ” Do I need Fire extinguishers?” So I hope this post helps highlight that really we should all be safe and secure.

The change in legislation from prescriptive requirements from the state to risk based provision by responsible persons has undoubtedly given more freedom to businesses and also ensured that technical progress is accounted for.

Unfortunately the change has removed a useful safety blanket for responsible persons and particularly budget holders – whereas under previous legislation there was a clear detailed description of the requirements of law and what was needed to meet it (in the Form of the Fire Precautions Act; Blue, Red & Yellow guides; and resulting fire certificates) the current legislation (The Regulatory Reform [Fire Safety} Order and it’s Scottish and Northern Irish counterparts) simply sets out the broad general duties, leaving it to the interpretation of the Responsible Person & their Competent Person as to what provision exactly meets these general duties in their premises.

As a result, conflicting views can be held and those budget holders trying to seek approval for necessary works on the basis of explicit legal requirements have to deal with the fact the detail is not explicit in law – merely implicit in the findings of a fire risk assessment.

So, with respect to portable fire fighting equipment where do we stand in law?


Fire-fighting and fire detection
13. —(1) Where necessary (whether due to the features of the premises, the activity carried on there, any hazard present or any other relevant circumstances) in order to safeguard the safety of relevant persons, the responsible person must ensure that—(a) the premises are, to the extent that it is appropriate, equipped with appropriate fire-fighting equipment and with fire detectors and alarms; and

(b) any non-automatic fire-fighting equipment so provided is easily accessible, simple to use and indicated by signs.

(2) For the purposes of paragraph (1) what is appropriate is to be determined having regard to the dimensions and use of the premises, the equipment contained on the premises, the physical and chemical properties of the substances likely to be present and the maximum number of persons who may be present at any one time.

(3) The responsible person must, where necessary—

(a)    take measures for fire-fighting in the premises, adapted to the nature of the activities carried on there and the size of the undertaking and of the premises concerned;

(b) nominate competent persons to implement those measures and ensure that the number of such persons, their training and the equipment available to them are adequate, taking into account the size of, and the specific hazards involved in, the premises concerned; and

(c) arrange any necessary contacts with external emergency services,      particularly as regards fire-fighting, rescue work, first-aid and emergency medical care.

It is clear that in all premises a fire risk assessment must be carried out to determine the number, type, and location of fire fighting appliances.

If no risk is present then no fire equipment is required – however, should a risk be present, appropriate equipment must be provided.

The law does not let a lack of training or procedure over rule the need for equipment – if the risk requires it, it shall be provided and persons nominated to ensure suitable training is provided (which can vary from a summary in fire safety training as part of induction to full practical fire team exercises – the risk determines how far the training need go).

There is sufficient case law and guidance in the Government Risk Assessment Guides (increasingly used as a benchmark by courts) to support this interpretation.

Determining the requirements – multi occupied premises

So having realised that some provision is required, it now remains to decide what and by whom.

The underlying factor is risk.

Tenanted Areas

Without a doubt the biggest risk area within premises is in the tenant’s demise.

Considerable amounts of readily combustible materials and ignition sources, plus the largest number of persons are present in these areas.

More often than not the primary risk is class A (flammable solids) along with an associated risk from energised electrical equipment, although some areas may have Class B (flammable liquid/liquefiable solids) risks or even the notorious Class F (cooking oils) risks.

The bulk of fire fighting provision therefore falls to tenants, who must make provision suitable to the risks – usually following the scales in BS5306-8, although in smaller premises the use of small multipurpose ABC Powder extinguishers is considered sufficient in the entry level Government Guide.

Common areas

These areas present the biggest debate and also the biggest examples of unnecessary provision.

Remember – risk is the key.

Most common areas consist of stairwells and landings. A number of these are usually plain concrete fire stairs or sparsely decorated, perhaps with carpet/floor tiles and similar. They are like this because they are protected routes for means of escape and must be fire resisting, free from combustibles & obstruction & have limited surface spread of flame

Do these require extinguishers? No – there is no risk – once the building is well alight and fire doors loose integrity the floor coverings will become involved, but we are well past the first aid attack stage.

What if contractors are working in these areas? Unless they are introducing a risk then there is still no need for extinguishers. If they are, then they should be working under Permit To Work and have been required to supply their own equipment appropriate to the risks they are introducing.

But I have a reception area with furnishing, a commissionaire’s desk & CCTV monitor, etc? This is indeed a risk in which case this area should have a suitable fire point – but the other areas still do not.

What about other common areas? Well these are often areas such as loading bays, switch rooms, boiler rooms, lift motor rooms, building manager’s offices, etc. All have risks present, both ignition risks and fuel sources, so these would require appropriate extinguishers.

What about the Housing Associations who removed extinguishers? Again, look at risk – the common areas in flat blocks (not HMO’s) are often protected routes and contain no risk, so it could be justified. The flats themselves are responsible for their own provision, which being single dwellings contain Relevant Persons, but otherwise are not covered by the Fire Safety Order so it is up to the householder what (if anything) is provided for fire fighting in their area.

This is a guest post from Anthony Buck of

Anthony’s knowledge of UK fire extinguishers and the Regulations is unsurpassed

Fire Extinguishers in the News

Fire ExtinguishersFire extinguishers are so much part of our lives these days, it’s hardly headline-grabbing news when one is set off or used. However, even the humble fire extinguisher has had its moments of glory…

Formula One

To suffer one engine fire in your car is unfortunate, to have two… French Formula One driver Sebastien Bourdais managed to cross the chequered flag in 18th place in the Hungarian Grand prix, despite two flash fires during refuelling. It wasn’t the fires that slowed him down however, it was having to make a third pit stop to have fire extinguisher foam removed from the inside of his visor…

Think Before You Speak

Award for this year’s most inappropriate use of the phrase “Fire Extinguisher” must go to US press secretary Dana Perino. In May 2008, the White House announced that it would not sell crude oil from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve to boost supply and lower prices. Perino described the oil reserve thus: “It’s like the fire extinguisher in case of an emergency.”

If they are putting out fires with oil in the US, Houston, they have a problem!

Olympic Torch

The world-wide progress of the 2008 Beijing Olympic torch procession was not the smooth-running exercise the Chinese organizers had hoped for. In London, over 35 people were arrested for trying to obstruct the torch procession.

After two men had tried to put out the torch with a fire extinguisher, the torch-protecting authorities decided that it was safer on a double-decker bus. A large naked flame, in a large metal ice-cream cone, on a London bus. Hmmm.

Fire Training Nigerian Style

A second electrical fire at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria in September 2008 shows the importance of fire safety maintenance – and training. When the office’s electrical control room burst into flames, according to the Nigerian newspaper “Business Today”, the civil defense corps allegedly, “Ran away from the scene instead of deploying the disaster management training they are reputed to have gained.”

Quick-thinking security staff grabbed the nearest fire extinguishers, only to discover they were empty. So, one guard ran to a nearby building and borrowed one of their extinguishers instead. It was almost an hour before a ‘rapid intervention’ fire truck arrived, finally putting out the fire.

Whilst praising those quick-acting security staff, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chief Ojo Maduekwe was generally not amused; “The response to the incident was reasonably above average and there can still be improvement.”

Absolutely, Minister!

And Finally…

A German anti-smoker was so annoyed when his girlfriend lit up a cigarette in his flat, that he set off a fire extinguisher to extinguish it. The resulting powder covered her, him and most of the flat by the time the police arrived to the flat, in the town of Bielefeld.

With due concern for fire safety, a police spokesman explained how “It looked like a bomb had gone off in there… He managed to put the cigarette out though.” The anti-smoker is now single, again.

Know Your Smoke Alarms

Fire AlarmWhen it comes to keeping your family safe from fire, your first line of defense is an effective – and functioning – fire alarm.

Smoke Detectors: Pull Your Finger Out!

As the recent campaign fronted by Julie Walters showed, a smoke detector without a battery is as useful as a bicycle for a haddock. In fact, it’s worse than useless, because it can lull you into a false sense of security. Luckily, the new generation of 10-year battery alarms and mains alarms take away that worry, and they are surprisingly cheap too.

Not all Smoke Alarms are Equal

There are three main types of alarm that can protect you and your home:

1. An ionisation smoke alarm detects fires that burn fast and with flames, such as furniture or fabrics. So, you should place these types of smoke detectors in your lounge and bedrooms, but NOT next to an en-suite bathroom. (Learn why a little later.)

If this alarm alerts you to a fire, the best extinguisher to have handy would be a 2kg domestic multi-rating ABC powder extinguisher.

2. A photoelectrical or optical smoke alarm detects smouldering or slow-burning fires that give off smoke and ash, rather than burst into flames. This is the best type of alarm to have near a kitchen or bathroom door, as they are not set off by steam or cooking particles. Place them in your hallway or landing, or anywhere near a bathroom door.

Again, make sure you also have easy access to a domestic-sized fire extinguisher upstairs, to save precious seconds running downstairs to fetch one.

3. A mains heat alarm only activates if the temperature rises above 57 degrees C (135 degrees F), so they are ideal for use in your kitchen. They are ideal as they won’t go off every time you fry or overcook a cake, but will alert you to a more serious incident.

Your kitchen fire safety kit should consist of at least a wall-mounted fire blanket and a multi-rated domestic fire extinguisher. If you have a lot of electrical equipment in your kitchen, you might like to also consider a CO2 fire extinguisher, to minimise damage to your expensive fridge or mixer!

Tackling Home Fires with a Fire Extinguisher

When your smoke detector alerts you and your family to a fire, always get the family outside first. If you consider the fire to be small enough to tackle with your fire extinguisher, do so, but don’t be a hero.

If in doubt, always get out, stay out and call the Fire Brigade.

Fire Safety In Your Kitchen

Fire BlanketSo, you’ve got 10 year battery smoke alarms on the ceilings and a small fire extinguisher on each floor of your home. So, that’s you sorted, right?

Wrong! The US National Fire Protection Association discovered that in the past 10 years, more than 15 percent of all residential fire deaths, more than 29 percent of all injuries and approximately 30 percent of all residential fires were the direct result of kitchen fires. In the UK, 376 people died in domestic fires in 2005, and over 11,500 people were injured.

Protect Your Kitchen, Protect Your Home

Kitchen fire safety remains a concern for UK authorities. The latest Code of Practice BS 5839-6:2004 recommends a heat alarm in every Kitchen, and new Building regulations require new homes to have mains operated alarms. Yet, there is no requirement to fit any fire detection alarms in your existing kitchen.

Fire Safety: Kit Out Your Kitchen

Providing fire safety for your kitchen is really easy – and remarkably cost-efficient too, with just three steps to fire safety.

1. Feel the Heat


If you love to cook, you’ll know how a kitchen can quickly fill with steam, or hazy smoke from that lovely sizzling steak. Normal smoke alarms would be going crazy by now, which is why most new kitchen are fitted with a heat alarm instead.

A heat alarm only sounds when the temperature rises above 57 degrees C (135 degrees F), the temperature of a fire rather than just cooking.

2. Smother with Love

A fire blanket is just what you need to smother small fat fires in a frying pan, for example. Fire blankets work by excluding air from the fire, and extinguishing it.

If a pan catches fire, turn off the heat and immediately throw the blanket completely over the pan.


3. Fight the Fire

Your third essential item of kitchen fire safety kit is a 2k domestic fire extinguisher, such as an ABC multi-rated power extinguisher. This extinguisher is ideal for tackling fires NOT involving fats or electrics, such as a burning tea-towel or paper packaging.

Mount your handy fire extinguisher on a wall, so it’s easy to grab and use if and when you need it. If you have expensive electrical equipment in your kitchen, invest in a CO2 fire extinguisher as well, which will reduce any potential damage when sued on or near your electrical appliances.

So, keep safe in your kitchen this year, and may the only smoke be from your partner burning the toast – again.

Fire Extinguisher Signs

Fire Extinguisher SignsYou may have the best quality, shiniest fire extinguishers in your business premises, but they will only be effective if your staff can find them when they need them most! Fire safety equipment signs are a vital part of your fire safety provision for your office, factory, warehouse, hotel, shop, or outdoor site.

Fire Safety Signs: What the Law Says

Health and Safety regulations require all owners of premises to use safety signs, quote, “Where there is a significant risk to health and safety that has not been avoided or controlled by the methods required under other relevant law, provided the use of a sign can help reduce the risk.”

All signs also need to conform to the British Standard Code of Practice for safety signs (BS 5499-10:2006)

Seeing Red: Fire Extinguisher Safety Signs

All fire equipment signs feature a red background with white graphics. These familiar red signs indicate where you and your colleagues can find fire extinguishers and other firefighting equipment, such as fire hoses or breathing apparatus.

 Fire extinguisher signs often combine vital information for users on one easy-to read sign. For example, a combination sign might include:

  • a red fire equipment sign for an extinguisher at the top
  • a blue information sign detailing the extinguisher type
  • green information symbols indicating the types of fire the extinguisher can be used on

So, your fire extinguisher sign can be a ‘one-stop shop’ of vital information in an emergency. Now you need to ensure everyone can see it!

Fire Safety Sign Placement

Placing your signs in the right places can give you staff vital extra seconds in an emergency. Make sure that every fire extinguisher has an appropriate sign not just at extinguisher level, but at eye level as well. Remember that not everyone is the same height, so eye level for some is sky level for others! Also consider the needs of any disabled members of staff, whose eye-line may be different again.

Always place your fire extinguishers where they can easily be accessed, and their associated fire safety sign can be seen at all times, so don’t site them behind a door or near a coat rack, for example.

If you have new premises or are renovating your old offices, your local Fire Officer or a professional fire risk assessor will be happy to help with advice on correct and effective placement.

Fire Extinguisher Stands and Signs

Despite modern advances in technology, fire extinguishers are still heavy items. Modern office partition walls and old brick walls in older premises may not be robust enough to support the weight of an extinguisher mounted on the wall. A better option is a fire extinguisher stand , which also protects your fire extinguishers from accidental knocks.

These red, grey or cream rigid plastic floor stands give your extinguishers a safe and sturdy home, and protect your carpets too! For external use, tough steel frame Fire Point stands are also available.

Walking Fire Extinguishers: Do They Exist?

From the number of times office fire extinguishers seem to move from their original positions to prop open doors, etc, you might be forgiven for thinking they had legs! Fire extinguisher signs can help you instantly identify any gaps, as some designs feature a “Missing” graphic.

Simply place your extinguisher in front of the graphic, and if the extinguisher is subsequently moved, you’ll see “Missing” in large letters.

Fire Extinguisher Training: if at first you don’t succeed

Fire Extinguisher TrainingIt takes a particularly patience US Fire Chief to be called out to the same location eight times since May 2008, and state that “Every time we go out, we can learn from that. Each time is a training experience.”

Fire Chief Mike Kobel’s patch is the Eastern Prairie district of Champaign, Illinois, and his particular bétè noir is a disused grain elevator, just across the street from his fire station.

The old grain elevator and the silos are being reclaimed by crews of contractors, and this process is when Chief Kobel’s problems started. Kobel was quoted in the local News Gazette, explaining that when the crews use cutting torches to remove parts, the flames ignite remnants of grain, their oils, and grain dusts, resulting in the smoldering fires.

Kobel is also resigned to the particular problems of fires involving dried organic produce: “Last week, we put several hundred gallons on one area. We knocked it down and the smoke quit. Rest assured, when you’re dealing with a pile of grain, it’s going to start smoking again.”

Site owner Chris Knipfer told the newspaper that he often doesn’t even know about fires at the grain elevator until the fire engine arrives, as the alarm has been raised by drivers on the nearby interstate highway, spotting smoke.

Chief Kobel is certainly using the grain elevator fires as an excellent source of training for his volunteer force of firefighters – and the contractors. He has instructed all contractors on site to put out smaller fires using fire extinguishers, whilst his crew make the most of each incident as training for a potentially major emergency.

For example, when their fire truck was called to a recent incident at the grain silos, the firefighters decided to check if their ladder would be long enough to reach the top of the silo if a fire broke out there. It wasn’t. So, if your company exports 140 foot long fire ladders to the US, you know who to call.

FE-36 Clean Agent

With the worldwide ban on Halon 1211, the race was on to create a clean, safe alternative for use in highly sensitive areas. As a result, the US manufacturing giant DuPont created FE-36, or Hydrofluorocarbon-236fa (HFC-236fa).

FE-36 works almost as effectively as the illegal halon, is less toxic, and does not deplete the ozone layer. FE-36 also leaves no residue, is non-corrosive, non-conductive, and will not cause thermal shock damage to machinery.

How Fire Extinguishers Containing DuPont FE-36 Work

These extinguishers discharge a stream of gas and liquid droplets that are propelled into the heart of the fire, stopping combustion through a chemical reaction and by absorbing the fire’s heat.

Since FE-36 becomes a gas at -1.4 degrees C (39 degrees F), it leaves no residue behind and after the fire, dissipates into the atmosphere. FE-36(tm) fire extinguishers can be used on fire classes A and B, and directly on electrical equipment.

FE-36 Fire Extinguishers in Europe

Although not yet widely available in the UK and Europe, these extinguishers are used in medical facilities across the USA. In addition, portable fire extinguishers containing FE-36 can be used in sensitive locations such as computer rooms, document stores, clean rooms, telecommunications facilities, control rooms, switch rooms, marine craft and installations, banks, museums, archives, laboratories, and airplanes.

The most common range of fire extinguishers containing FE-36 are Cleanguard extinguishers from Ansul.

In the UK Today

Motorsport participants might also be interested in the Zero 360, an FE-36 extinguisher especially for high performance racing and rally cars from Lifeline.

Also seen in small automatic extinguishers, the defunct Firemaster company’s previous management have set up a new company called Fireblitz Extinguisher and are now supplying 1kg and 2kg automatic sizes again.

“Total Flood” Fire Suppressant Systems

DuPont FE-36 can now be used to replace Halon 1301 in fixed fire protection systems. Fire extinguisher systems with FE-36 come into their own where a ‘total flood’ fire suppressant system is required. This involves ‘flooding’ an entire room or enclosed area with sufficient fire fighting agent to extinguish the fire. (If CO2 gas were used instead, the volumes involved would prove fatal to anyone in the area.)

FE-36 and Hydrogen Fluoride

When combusted, under certain conditions, FE-36 can produce hydrogen fluoride (HF). Whilst this gas is generally produced in small quantities, and the gas itself boils just below room temperature, you should make sure that after a fire, the area is fully ventilated before staff return.

You should also avoid breathing in any fumes from an FE-36 extinguisher treated fire, as on contact with moisture, including human tissue, hydrogen fluoride converts to hydrofluoric acid. This acid is highly toxic and corrosive.

MRI-Safe Fire Extinguishers

MRI-safe fire extinguishers are designed to protect these expensive and life-saving machines from damage in the event of a fire. High specification CO2 fire extinguishers and water mist extinguishers are designed with non-magnetic components to be able to operate in the vicinity of a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine.

How MRI-Safe Fire Extinguishers Work

MRI-safe fire extinguishers are essentially the same as normal extinguishers on the inside. However, MRI-safe fire extinguisher cylinders must be non-magnetic, as the magnetic field of an MRI machine is strong enough to attract a normal fire extinguisher with bone-crushing force.

It is not often realised but the magnetic potency of an MRI machine stays for a long time after it is turned off. This prevents fire-fighters from entering with something as simple as a metal belt buckle. There have been incidents of people being “sucked” into an MRI with tragic results.

The same rule applies to any machinery with a strong magnetic field, such as nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers (NMR’s). Non-magnetic fire extinguishers should also be used in health centres, clinics, and any premises where magnetic interference might affect the performance or operation of sensitive equipment.

Non-magnetic fire extinguishers are made with a non-magnetic stainless steel or aluminium shell, and non-magnetic fittings such as valves, nozzles and pins.

Specially manufacturerd 2kg CO2 fire extinguishers are the most popular non-magnetic type in the UK, since they can be used to extinguish fires in, on or around electrical equipment, are clean to operate and do not leave any residue after use. The non magnetic fire extinguisher is available online from Fire Protection Online and is made by Chubb Fire (and also sold under their sister company name of Thomas Glover).

Water Mist Fire Extinguishers

Amerex Corporation of the USA developed their water mist extinguisher for use in clean rooms, telecoms areas and health care facilities. Using distilled water instead of tap water, it has a specially-developed misting nozzle that atomizes the water making it non-conductive.

These are available in 1.75 gallon and 2.5 gallon size and as a 9 litre size in the UK (model 272) BAFE approved to BS EN3. They have UL approval in the USA.

As you can imagine, high specification non-magnetic fire extinguishers do not come cheap, retailing at a premium to the standard models. But, they can be found online at much lower prices.