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Understanding your fire extinguisher obligations

By Ashley Hickling, fire sales manager, Stanley Security

Fire extinguishers are an essential asset when it comes to proofing your premises 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.

The Chief Fire Officers’ Association estimated that 60 per cent of private businesses never recover from a fire. 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 And what to do with out of date ones? 


Using the right fire extinguisher

You may be surprised to hear there are different types of fire, with different characteristics. 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.

To deal with the different fire types, a range of fire extinguishers are available. 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:

• Wet Chemical (yellow label): Class A & F

• 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

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.


The life of a fire extinguisher

Should you have need of them, you want your fire extinguisher ready to work at a moment’s notice, so get them serviced every year 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. 

If you need to dispose of your extinguisher, do not put it out with your rubbish. If you have 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 check with your council first. 

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:

P. Pull the pin on the fire extinguisher to interrupt the tamper seal

A. Aim the fire extinguisher low, with the nozzle pointed at the base of the fire

S. Squeeze the handle of the fire extinguisher to unleash the termination agent

S. 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.