They are a first aid response to fire and can help prevent catastrophic damage to property and even loss of life. If you’re a business or property owner, legislation holds you responsible for the provision of appropriate firefighting equipment on the premises – and this legislation rules that you ensure maintenance and regular inspections of the fire extinguishers are kept up to. Here, we take look at the crucial role a fire extinguisher plays in any setting and highlight what you need to consider to meet legislation.

The history of the fire extinguisher

Fire extinguishers date back to around 200BC when Ctesibius of Alexandria invented a hand pump to deliver water to a fire. The first pressurised fire extinguisher was invented by Captain George William Manby – a copper vessel that contained three gallons of potassium carbonate. Fire extinguishers have come a long way since then. Fire ignites from various sources, necessitating the need for unique fire extinguishers to tackle each type of fire – there’s not one type of fire extinguisher that’s effective on every fire.

Fires are labelled by ‘class’ and the right fire extinguisher should be installed according to the class of fire the area is most at risk of. There are four main types of fire extinguisher, which are identifiable by their names, label colour and hoses or nozzles.
Water extinguishers are used on Class A fires – those whose source is solid (for example wood, paper and textiles).

Foam extinguishers are suitable for Class B fires (flammable liquids) and are recommended for Class A-risk areas too (those featuring combustible materials).

CO2 extinguishers though carrying a B classification, a CO2 unit is ideal for an electrical fire risk leaving no residue nor carrying a risk of damage to associated equipment.

Dry powder extinguishers (also known as ABC fire extinguishers) are suitable for Class A, B and C fires – those involving solids, liquids and gases.

Complying with fire safety legislation

Employers and property owners must comply with the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Order applies to virtually all premises and every type of building, including offices and shops, care homes, hospitals, schools, hotels and factories. It’s your responsibility to carry out a fire risk assessment and you must, as far as is reasonably practical, ensure that everyone on the premises can safely escape a fire. That includes installing fire extinguishers to provide the means of fighting a small fire. Fire extinguisher provision varies according to the class of fire; for example, the minimum number of Class A-rated extinguishers on each storey is two 13A fire extinguishers for a floor area of up to 400m2. For Class B fires, which generally produce a lot of heat and spread quickly, it’s advisable to enlist the help of the local fire and rescue service. However, each room must be considered separately, as should risks more than 20 metres apart. But installing the right fire extinguishers – and the correct number of them – is only the start.

Maintenance, inspections and reviews

Ensuring your premises’ fire extinguishers are within easy reach and clearly visible and identifiable in an emergency is important. Positioning of fire extinguishers is worked out based on the class of fire risk/fire extinguisher. The maximum distance a person should have to travel from the site of a fire to a fire extinguisher is as follows:
Class A: 30 metres
Class B: 10 metres
Class C: 30 metres
Class D: defined case by case
Class F: 10 metres

You are required to enlist the help of a competent person to check and maintain fire extinguishers once a year in line with BS 5306-3: 2017. Regular inspections by a qualified technician ensure the equipment remains in working order and is fit for purpose. If a fire extinguisher has been damaged, accidentally discharged or vandalised, for example, a technician will assess it and take the appropriate course of action. Meanwhile, BS5306-3: 2017 recommends the responsible person visually inspects fire extinguishers at least once a month and, when circumstances require, more frequently. Fire extinguishers must never be used to prop open doors and their correct usage should be communicated to all users of the building.

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