fire extinguishers

A rough guide to fire extinguisher servicing and the service-free model

The fire extinguisher market has changed substantially in recent years, with products becoming cheaper and the launch of service free extinguishers. Is it time to rethink your arrangements? What are the requirements and how much flexibility do you have?

Changing needs The best practice recommendations on extinguisher servicing are described in BS5306-3:2009. (The BSi shop website confirms that it s currently under review, which can only be a good thing given developments in the sector since 2009). There s also information within government guidance. While these documents are not legislation as such, should it all go wrong, they would be relied upon in court as evidence of expected practice to comply with the law. These documents specify the following: A weekly check that extinguishers are in place and undamaged Visual inspections at least monthly , by the responsible person, to confirm the extinguisher is in place, unobstructed, visible, has operating instructions which are clean and legible, has not been operated, is undamaged, the pressure gauge or indicator (if fitted) shows it s functional, and seals and tamper indicators are not missing Annual servicing by a competent person While points one and two above can be carried out by almost anyone with basic instruction, number three is generally reserved for qualified technicians. Annual servicing involves knowledge of different types of cylinders and their servicing needs under BS5306-3, knowledge of safe methods of work when working with pressure vessels, the use of specialist equipment and refill facilities, and more. When looking for a company to carrying out a servicing contract you must ensure that they are competent. The best way to do this is to look for evidence that they are registered with BAFE under the SP101/ST104 scheme. If you wanted to train someone in-house to take on this task there are three day courses available. This traditional route for annual servicing is the way to go if you have standard extinguishers (ie not the service-free type).

You should also use a competent contractor to commission your extinguishers (as recommended within BS5306-6). The need for commissioning tends to rule out the idea of buying cheaper extinguishers directly from, for instance, internet suppliers, as you probably won t have the qualifications to do it in-house. In practice, commissioning involves a full check equivalent to a basic service, proper installation and signage. What about service-free extinguishers? A new brand of extinguishers, P50 , is being marketed as offering a new alternative to annual servicing contracts. The extinguishers come with three alternative contents at present: dry powder, aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) and wet chemical (used on oil/ fat fires). They: Have a 10-year warranty and 10 year service-free life Come with a free refill offer if the pressure drops or its used on a real fire are made of non-corrosive materials so they re good in tough environments where other extinguishers would rust are offered with commissioning and installation within the price AFFF and dry powder extinguishers don t require emptying and refilling every five years (a requirement for most standard extinguishers) They cost a bit more than standard extinguishers (a 6 litre AFFF including the installation is 130 plus VAT) but because of the savings they should make good financial sense. However, before deciding whether to take this route you must be sure that you have the resources to carry out the annual check it s not difficult and can be carried out using the magnet provided to check the pressure gauges, a visual inspection and quick wipe. Instructions are given by the manufacturer.

One catch is that there are presently no carbon dioxide extinguishers in the range. This could mean that you have a small number of traditional extinguishers alongside your P50s, thus still requiring a service visit by a qualified technician, and losing at least some of the financial savings. In conclusion You re unlikely to want to undertake servicing of standard extinguishers in-house unless you re a very large operation that can justify the three-day course. Even then, you ll need to oversee the quality of workmanship: this is a safety critical task and not worth cutting corners. If you only require types of extinguisher which are available in the service-free range this could work for you. However in practice most businesses need some carbon dioxide extinguisher cover due to electrical equipment within their building. This being the case, you should weigh up the initial and annual costs carefully before making your decision. As a final word of caution, don t lose sight of the fact that extinguishers are present for use in a life-threatening emergency. This is not an area where cost savings should override other considerations.

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Download now Related Topics How to use a fire extinguisher safely and effectively BAFE issues revised fire extinguisher servicing competency scheme document Types of fire extinguisher: How to choose the right class

How to use a fire extinguisher safely and effectively

In many occurrences of fire, it s not always safe or practical to try to put it out yourself, so evacuation and calling the fire brigade may be the only option. This is especially the case if the fire is large or spreading, the room is filling with deadly smoke, or there is no fire escape route. But for lesser fires contained in a small space, using a fire extinguisher, if it is safe to do so, can be very effective.

Deploying a fire extinguisher correctly depends on which type it is and on what type of material is on fire. Using the wrong extinguisher is at best ineffective, and at worst could intensify the fire, so ascertain the fuel first and then ensure you have the right type of extinguisher to hand before you tackle the fire. Materials present in the area to be protected from fire in the UK can be divided into six categories of fire involving different substances: Class A , combustible carbon-based solids eg paper, wood or textiles Class B , flammable liquids eg paraffin, petrol, diesel or oil (but not cooking oil) Class C , flammable gases, eg butane, propane or methane Class D , burning metals, eg aluminium, lithium or magnesium Fires caused by electrical equipment (indicated by an electric spark symbol and not the letter E) Class F , fats and cooking oils. The following types of extinguishers can be used to quench the various types of fire: Class A water, water mist, foam, dry powder, wet chemical Class B water mist, foam, dry powder, CO2, some wet chemical Class C water mist, dry powder Class D specialist dry powder Electrical some water mist, some foam, CO2 Class F water mist, wet chemical. General safety principles Familiarise yourself with the extinguisher and how to use it before there is a fire. Most extinguishers include a handle or lever, a hose with a horn or nozzle, a safety pin and seal, a pressure gauge, and the relevant fluid, powder or gas Evacuate everyone else from the building Ascertain the location of your fire exit or escape route Make sure the flames are shorter than you and the fire is contained, eg in a wastepaper basket. Don t stay near the fire or use the extinguisher unless you feel safe to do so Inspect the extinguisher and read the instructions before using it Check it is fully charged or it won t work (the pressure gauge on top should be in the green area. If it s red, the extinguisher has expired) Check the safety pin is not bent or the nozzle clogged or damaged and remove the safety pin to break the tamper seal Use the PASS protocol Pull the pin to unlock the mechanism, Aim the hose at the base of the fire, Squeeze the lever slowly, Sweep the hose from side to side Stand so that your back is towards the nearest exit or escape route never turn your back on a fire Stand between 6 and 8 feet away from the fire, moving closer as it is gradually extinguished. Always aim at the base of the fire Always ensure all areas of the fire are completely out Leave the scene immediately once the extinguisher is discharged and call 999 if the fire isn t completely out Replace or recharge the extinguisher.

Water extinguishers (Class A) First, it is essential to check that there is no live electrical equipment in the area. Then point the hose at the base of the flames and squeeze the lever slowly to discharge the extinguisher. Keep it moving across the area of the fire or move it slowly upwards if the fire is spreading vertically. Make sure that all areas of the fire are out completely. If not, repeat the process or get help. Water mist extinguishers (Classes A, B, C, F and some electrical) The instructions are the same as for water extinguishers, except that some water mist models can be used on electrical equipment up to 1,000 Volts, such as computers and printers. Foam extinguishers (Classes A, B and some electrical) For fires involving solids (A), point the jet at the base of the flames and keep it moving across the area of the fire. For fires involving liquids (B), aim the jet at a vertical surface near the fire, not straight into the liquid, eg in a container, point the jet at the inside edge of the container or a nearby surface above the burning liquid. Allow the foam to build up and flow across the liquid to break the interaction between the flames and the fuel surface.

Dry powder extinguishers (Classes A, B, C, and some D if specialist powder) Point the jet or discharge horn at the base of the flames, driving the fire towards the far edge with a rapid sweeping motion until extinguished. Make sure the fire does not flare up again, as this type of extinguisher does not cool the fire very effectively. Also, make sure you don t inhale the toxic powder, so do not use in an enclosed space. The use of specialist powder extinguishers to tackle burning metals (D) requires a different technique from standard extinguishers. Potential users should be trained in their use. CO2 extinguishers (Class B and electrical) Switch off the power if an electrical fire, if safe to do so. Direct the discharge horn at the base of the flames. Keep the jet moving across the area of the fire until it is suffocated. Be careful your fingers do not freeze to the horn.

Watch for re-ignition of the fire. CO2 extinguishers have a very short discharge time. Wet chemical extinguishers (Class A, F, and some B) These are mainly used to extinguish chip pan fires using animal or vegetable fats. Turn off the heat source if safe to do so. Apply the wet chemical evenly at arm s length above the fire, at least one metre away from the fire, using the extended long applicator or lance in slow, gentle, circular movements, so that the burning fat or oil does not splash out. Spray until its surface changes into a foamy, soapy substance, which acts as a blanket. Use the entire extinguisher to prevent reignition. Potential users should be trained in how to use these extinguishers properly. Other extinction methods Fire blankets.

Turn off the heat source if safe to do so. Pull the tapes to release the blanket from its container. Carefully place the blanket over the fire keeping hands out of the way. Leave to cool. If a person is on fire, wrap the blanket around them. To use hose reels effectively, point the jet at the base of the flames and keep it moving across the area of the fire. Ensure that all areas of the fire are out.

The water or sand in fire buckets should be thrown at the base of the flames, ensuring that all areas of the fire are out.

Finally, if there is no fire extinguisher to hand, and the fire is very small, you could try using a wet cloth or towel or shovelling sand or dirt, if available, onto the fire.

BAFE issues revised fire extinguisher servicing competency scheme document

BAFE has revised its fire extinguisher maintenance/service scheme and BAFE SP101:2017 this is now available via the BAFE website. Coming into effect from 1 October 2017 the updated scheme seeks to better define what constitutes competence in the provision of fire extinguisher services and updates the role of the fire extinguisher technician. BAFE launched a review of the scheme in April 2016 after a lengthy consultation period.

Further elements of technical competence have been added to revised sections of BS 5306 (fire extinguishing installations and equipment on premises), while BAFE-registered fire extinguisher technicians are now required to undertake training in asbestos awareness and health and safety procedures. The technician competency portfolio used by BAFE assessors has also been reviewed. Passing the BS 5306 exam is now only the first step in demonstrating a grasp of relevant standards. A dual route to competency has been created. From 1 October 2017, organisations can gain third-party certification through either an ISO9001 or a management system route.

The same audit criteria is applied in both instances.