During an emergency involving fire, the speed at which a fire extinguisher can be sought is vital. Also choosing the correct type of fire extinguisher for each type of fire can be the difference between life and death. Over the years, general guidelines have been established as recommended practice after being derived from fire incident investigations.
For general fire protection purposes, extinguishers should be located as follows:
i) So that no-one has to travel more than 30 metres to reach one. This is to ensure the speed at which one can be sourced is as efficient as possible.
ii) Conspicuous positions. It can be difficult to find one when they are positions which are out of the sight of people and not obviously seen in emergency.
iii) Near room exits, on exit routes or on staircase landings.
iv) On similar positions on each floor. This helps build a habit in people’s minds of there being a common place to find an extinguisher when needed.
v) Easily accessible. Obstructions to the extinguishers add to the delay of being able to extinguish the fire.
vi) Where intended for a particular hazard, they should be conveniently located for the place of risk, but not so close that they may be inaccessible in the event of fire. Getting the right extinguisher next to the right kind of hazard helps to eliminate bad choices when attempting to extinguish fires, which could lead to further loss.
vii) Avoidance of exposure to excessive heat or cold.
viii) Avoidance of corrosion. This ensures the fire extinguishers are ready and fit for purpose.
ix) Grouped together in fire points where practicable. This helps to ensure that fire fighting is as efficient as possible.
Due to the different methods needed to bring various types of extinguishers into operation, they should bear clearly understood written and pictorial operating instructions. Ideally all extinguishers should operate in the same way and be controllable.
In the UK, for quick identification there is a British Standard colour code (BS 7863) for each type of appliance:
• Red for water
• Cream for foam
• Blue for powder
• Black for Carbon Dioxide
• Canary Yellow for Wet Chemical
Halon Fire Extinguishers – Coloured green
The Montreal Protocol has ruled that Halon fire extinguishers should have been phased out by the year 2000 and as such all Halon extinguishers should be replaced with a suitable alternative, i.e. some kind of inert gas.
British standard for portable fire extinguishers
British Standard ‘BS EN3’ is the current manufacturing standard for portable fire extinguishers in the UK. It came into force on 1 January 1997 therefore every new extinguisher manufactured must comply with BS EN3 for it to be an ‘approved’ extinguisher. The main feature is that the extinguisher body must be RED, regardless of its contents.
Clause 57.1 does however allows for a maximum of 5% of the surface area of the body of the extinguisher to be colour coded to indicate its contents. The area chosen must be visible 180 degrees when the extinguisher is in its normal position.