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Why is Fire Extinguisher Maintenance Important?

Maintenance of fire extinguishers is essential. Not only is it effectively a legal requirement but as extinguishers play such a crucial part in putting fires out before they get out of hand, it’s vital that they work if and when they’re needed.

The British Standards – which provide guidelines for fire safety – state that annual maintenance of fire protection equipment, including fire extinguishers must be carried out by a competent person, i.e. one that has the relevant BAFE certification. (See BS 5306 part 3)

With proper servicing and maintenance carried out on a regular basis, fire extinguishers should last for up between 5-15 years before they need replacing.

How often should fire extinguishers be serviced?

maintenance plans for fire extinguishersFire extinguishers should be maintained:

  • When delivered (commissioning service)
  • Monthly (on site by designated person)
  • Annually (by a professional)

Commissioning service

This is an initial examination and service of the extinguisher to check for any signs of damage. It’s important that this takes place after delivery, in case of any damage caused in transit.

Monthly fire extinguisher maintenance

It’s highly recommended to carry out regular fire extinguisher inspections on a monthly basis. This checks the extinguisher is working as it should between annual services. These assessments can be undertaken by a designated member of staff, no special training is needed. Records should be kept of each inspection in a special log book.

Things to look out for when carrying out a monthly fire extinguisher maintenance check:

  • The extinguisher has no visible signs of damage, wear and tear.
  • It is installed in the correct place it was intended and easily visible if needed.
  • The needle of the extinguisher’s pressure gauge is in the green zone. (This means it is working fine).
  • Anti-tamper seals are present and have not been broken.
  • Appropriate labelling and operating instructions are on the extinguisher.

How can you tell if a fire extinguisher needs servicing or replacing?

If you discover any of the following during your fire extinguisher inspection you should consult a professional who will need to service and repair or replace the faulty extinguisher:

  • The extinguisher is damaged, e.g. hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped or blocked.
  • If the handle is wobbly or broken.
  • The pressure gauge needle is outside of the green zone. (This means the extinguisher will need servicing immediately).
  • Locking pin is missing or anti-tamper seal is broken.
  • Appropriate labelling and operating instructions are missing.

All fire extinguishers should be labelled with details of their last inspection; if this is not present you should have the extinguisher checked over by a professional.

Annual fire extinguisher maintenance

The most detailed and thorough examination of your fire extinguisher will take place during its annual servicing. As mentioned, in accordance with BS 5306 part 3, this will need to be carried out by a qualified and BAFE certified professional.

Within annual servicing the extinguisher may be due an extended service during which it will be emptied; the inside will be inspected before it is then refilled. A discharge test would also be conducted to ensure the extinguisher discharges correctly.

After the service, the label must be updated with the date maintenance took place, the weight of the extinguisher, the engineer who carried out the service, when the next discharge test is due and any other additional comments raised during the examination.

Fire extinguisher maintenance plans

Peace of mind is important, particularly when dealing with the threat of fire. Proper maintenance of all extinguishers on your premises is essential. Fire protection companies offer fire extinguisher maintenance plans, which are the most sensible and cost effective option if you have multiple fire extinguishers on site.

At Euro Fire Protection, our technicians are BAFE certified and can take care of all your fire extinguisher maintenance requirements with our servicing plans. Give our team a call to find out more about how we can help protect your business.

For more information

Euro Fire Protection are certified by BAFE. Find out about our complete fire extinguisher maintenance plans. Call us today on 08000 515 199.

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The Fire Classification System in the UK

All fires can be separated into 5 different categories, depending on the type of fuel that is burning.

Categorising fires in this way makes it easier to choose the most appropriate method of fighting the fire, for example some fire extinguishers are more suited for use on certain types of fires than others.

In the UK fires are classed using the European Standard Classification of Fires, which is recognised across the EU.

Class A – Ordinary combustible fires

These are probably the most common type of fire. They occur when materials become heated to their ignition temperature and will continue to burn as long as there is heat, oxygen and fuel to burn. Materials involved in these types of fires include paper, wood, textiles, rubber, some plastics and other organic carbon based compounds.

Class A fires are probably the easiest to extinguish as spraying them with water will cool the fire, removing the heat supply which is essential for the fire to burn. Water based or foam fire extinguishers are most appropriate for putting out ordinary combustible fires.

Class B – Flammable liquids

Flammable liquids are those that have an ignition temperature of less than 100°C. These liquids also have a low flashpoint, which means that they burn easily. The flashpoint is the temperature at which a substance gives off enough vapour to be ignited. These liquids can however burn at any temperature if a source of ignition, such as a spark or naked flame is supplied.

Examples of liquids that are flammable include petrol, kerosene, alcohol, solvents and paints. Fires involving these give off a lot of heat and tend to spread very quickly. They also produce thick, black toxic smoke, which can make these fires difficult to fight.

The best approach for extinguishing a Class B fire is to use a foam fire extinguisher to smother the flames, as using water causes the fuel to scatter therefore spreading out the fire.

Class C – Flammable gases

Flammable gases such as butane, propane and petroleum gases have the potential to create an explosion, if triggered by a single spark. For this reason flammable gases have to be stored securely in sealed containers. The LEL (lower explosive limit) states the lowest concentration of flammable gas that will burn in air. This is usually around 5%, which shows just how big the danger is of potential explosions.

Fires involving flammable gases are one of the most dangerous types of fire to fight. Before attempting to put the fire out, you should make sure that the gas supply is isolated first. Most fire extinguishers are ineffective on Class C fires, the only type being suitable for use being dry power extinguishers.

Class D – Metal fires

Certain metals and powdered metals can burn if ignited, although it requires a lot of heat to ignite most metals, as they are good conductors and transfer heat away quickly to their surroundings. Powdered metals and metal shavings are easier to ignite than solid lumps of metal, so pose a higher fire risk.

Alkali metals such as potassium, magnesium, aluminium and sodium can burn when in contact with air and water. Therefore putting water or foam onto metal fires will increase the intensity of the flames and result in potentially explosive reactions that will send pieces of burning metal in all directions.

In many cases with industrial fires where there are large amounts of burning metal, the safest approach is usually to let the fire burn itself out. As Class D fires tend to produce a lot of ash, this builds up and eventually starves the fire’s Oxygen supply. If a metal fire is spotted early on, specialist type D powder fire extinguishers can be effective, although it should be ensured that they are the specific dry powder type, suitable for use on metal fires.

Electrical Fires

Short circuits, overloaded switchboards, faulty equipment and damaged wiring can all cause electrical fires. Electrical fires are not strictly a fire class of their own, as electricity is a source of ignition as opposed to a fuel. They are still important to mention however as they have their own special fire safety requirements.

Before dealing with an electrical fire, the supply of electricity must be isolated as quickly as possible. As water and foam has the power to conduct electricity, even once the electricity source has been cut off, you should not attempt to put out the fire by putting water on the flames or by using foam and water based extinguishers. Carbon dioxide and dry powder fire extinguishers are the only types of fire extinguishers recommended for safely tackling electrical fires.

Class F – Cooking oil fires

Fires involving cooking oil and fats are common both in homes, businesses and professional kitchens. They pose a very difficult challenge to extinguish, due to the high temperatures involved. Simply trying to cool the fire with water will not work; in fact using water on a burning pan is likely to cause a rapid spreading out of the flames, making the fire worse and potentially injuring anyone in its vicinity.

For this reason special fire extinguishers have been developed to address Class F fires. Wet chemical extinguishers contain a formula which cools the fire and then emulsifies to seal the surface and prevent re-ignition.

If you need advice on which fire extinguishers would be most appropriate for your business premises then get in touch with Euro Fire Protection. Our trained specialists are BAFE approved and can help you ensure your business is best protected against fire.

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How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

The most important thing to remember if you discover a fire is to remain calm, think logically and raise the alarm. Fire can spread very quickly and you should never underestimate it. You should only attempt to tackle a fire yourself; if you are sure you can do this safely. If in doubt – it’s best to get out, stay out, call 999 and leave it to the professionals.

Fire extinguishers are your first line of defence in the event of a fire, but you first you need to make sure you are using the correct type of extinguisher for the fire. Using the wrong type can be dangerous and risk making the fire worse. Check the pictogram instructions on the front if you are not sure which types of fires your extinguisher is suitable for.

Before you start, check the extinguisher for any signs of visible damage. Ensure the seal has not been broken and on ones where there is a pressure gauge located near the handle, it should be in the green. This means that the fire extinguisher is charged up and ready to use.

If the extinguisher passes all these checks then it is safe to use. Break the plastic safety tag and get into position. Make sure you stand at a distance of about 8-12 feet away from the flames, any closer or further away will be ineffective, potentially dangerous and risk spreading the fire.

Just Remember P.A.S.S.

P – Pull out the safety pin, located at the top of the extinguisher.

A – Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire.

S – Squeeze the handle to spray the contents.

S – Sweep from side to side until all of the flames have been extinguished. Keep spraying to avoid re-ignition until extinguisher contents have been fully discharged.

Special Advice for Foam and CO2 Fire Extinguishers

Most extinguishers should be operated in the same way as mentioned above, although there are special guidelines for foam and CO2 extinguishers. Foam extinguishers should be aimed at the back edge of a fire instead of the base to be most effective.

Care and attention should be exercised when using Carbon Dioxide fire extinguishers. The user should position the discharge horn before use, as during use this becomes very cold and touching it will result in freeze burns. Also for this reason, when using you should hold the extinguisher by the handle and NOT the horn.

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Different Types of Fire Extinguisher Explained

Fire extinguishers can be very useful tools for bringing fire under control in its early stages, but it is very important to make sure you use the correct type. Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher can be very dangerous, resulting in serious injury and risk potentially making the fire worse. Some extinguishers are more suited to some environments than others, it is important to assess which type is the most appropriate for your business. This is best taken care of by professional fire protection specialists, who can survey your premises and provide you with a complete site survey – to ensure you have the most suitable types of fire extinguishers installed.

Five Types of Fire Extinguisher

All fire extinguishers in the UK have clear colour co-ordinated labelling, located towards the top of the extinguisher. To ensure your safety you should familiarise yourself with the five different colour co-ordinated types:

  • Water – Red
  • Powder – Blue
  • Foam – Cream
  • CO2 - Black
  • Wet Chemical – Yellow

Water – Red

Water fire extinguishers are commonplace in offices, shops and warehouses. They are ideal for tackling fires that are burning freely – involving paper, wood, textiles and other solid materials. However under no circumstances should water fire extinguishers be used on fires involving electrical equipment, as water conducts electricity potentially causing the operator an electric shock. These extinguishers are also unsuitable for fires involving flammable liquids, gases and cooking oil fires in the kitchen.

Dry Powder & Dry Special Powder – Blue

Powder fire extinguishers are fairly versatile and suitable for use against a variety of different types of fires. The powder inside the extinguisher prevents the chemical reactions happening that occur inside the fire, to stop it from spreading. When using, it is important to avoid inhaling any of the powder, therefore powder extinguishers are not recommended for use in small spaces such as offices.

These extinguishers can be used on wood, paper, textiles, liquid and electrical fires, so are useful for environments with the risk of several different types of fire, such as those involving chemicals or vehicles. However it’s important to note, powder fire extinguishers should not be used on fires in the kitchen and fires involving flammable metals for example aluminium and magnesium. Some special powder extinguishers are suitable for use on flammable metals, although you should always check the labelling on the extinguisher carefully before use.

Foam – Cream

Foam fire extinguishers are also suitable for different types of fires and are recommended for use particularly in factories, petrol stations and hotels. The foam produced is used to smother the fire and starve it of oxygen, thus extinguishing the flames. These are ideal for use on wood, paper, textiles and liquid fires. Although they are safe to use on electrical equipment it will cause considerable irreversible damage to the appliances. They are also unsuitable for use on flammable gases and cooking fires with oil and grease in the kitchen.

CO2 – Black

Carbon Dioxide fire extinguishers are probably the type with the highest risk associated to the operator if used incorrectly, so caution is recommended. Their improper use can result in cold burns, particularly if skin comes into prolonged contact with the horn of the extinguisher, therefore the user should avoid holding the extinguisher by the horn. They also reduce the oxygen supply in the room, which although helps to put out the fire can make it harder to breathe if used in a confined space.

Also as Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas, they are also the most environmentally un-friendly fire extinguisher – although much less harmful to the planet than Halon fire extinguishers which were withdrawn from general use in 2000, though they can still be found in some uses such as aviation.

CO2 fire extinguishers are suitable for use on electrical fires and flammable liquids including petrol, although ineffective against fires which involve wood, paper, textiles, flammable gases and cooking fires. They are best recommended for use in offices, shops, schools and other indoor environments, where there is electrical equipment present.

Wet Chemical – Yellow

Wet chemical fire extinguishers are also potentially hazardous to the user, as they can produce toxic fumes which can linger for a while, even after the fire has been put out. So after using indoors, you should open windows and doors if possible to make sure the area is well ventilated.

The chemical spray released by the extinguisher works by starting a chemical reaction that combines the discharge with the cooking fat or oil, to form a cake of soap like emulsion which cools the fire. These extinguishers are probably the type best suited to fires in the kitchen and are essential for restaurants. They are also suitable for fighting fires involving wood, paper and textiles although not suited for use on flammable liquids, gases and metals.

Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers

All fire extinguishers should be serviced annually from the date of installation, to ensure they are in good working order, filled up and safe to use. It is extremely important that fire extinguishers are maintained, as they can potentially be dangerous if not looked after properly.

You should make sure that your fire extinguishers are regularly checked by specialists, our fully trained Euro Fire Protection engineers are registered under the BAFE extinguisher technician scheme and offer complete fire extinguisher maintenance, to give you peace of mind that in the event of a fire, your first line of defence is protected.

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