Fire Extinguishers Can Be a Big Help in Reducing Risk

April 21, 2020

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Small in stature in municipal buildings, schools and college campuses, but huge in prevention and containment in the event of an emergency.

It’s small in stature in municipal buildings, schools and college campuses, but huge in prevention and containment in the event of an emergency. This simple device is the fire extinguisher.

Fire extinguisher monitoring company en-Gauge Inc. reports that fire extinguishers are called on an estimated 600 times a day to put out fires in non-residential structures in the United States. Meanwhile, private research university Worcester Polytechnic Institute reports that fire extinguishers are used 15,000 times each year in schools, colleges, universities, dormitories, fraternity and sorority houses, and barracks.

But while these devices pack a protective punch, they’re not all the same.

Extinguishers are classified by the types of fire they are designed to fight. Using an incorrect extinguisher can be dangerous or ineffective.

Extinguishers use a lettering system of A, B, C, D and K, which is related to the types of fires they are meant to combat. For instance, Class A is meant for ordinary combustibles, such as trash, wood, paper and cloth, while Class B contains a chemical meant to put out flammable liquids, such as gasoline. An extinguisher is also given a numeric value to denote its capacity. The higher the numeric value, the larger the fire the unit is designed to extinguish. 

It’s important to note that fire extinguishers don’t take care of themselves. Agencies, districts and others overseeing commercial structures must ensure that the extinguishers are well maintained and that personnel are trained in the proper use of the devices. Regulations from OSHA list detailed maintenance, inspection and testing requirements for fire extinguishers.

As good as fire extinguishers are in preventing and curbing a fire, it’s still important to know “when to go,” cautions the National Fire Protection Association, a global nonprofit organization. Fire extinguishers are one component of a fire response plan that also includes a fire escape plan, NFPA says.

Additional Resources

Tips for Proper Use: Fire Extinguishers

Trident Public Risk Solutions, a proven leader in the public sector insurance and risk management marketplace, offers these tips for using a fire extinguisher properly:

  • Stand several feet away from the fire, moving closer once the fire starts to diminish.
  • Always stand with an exit at your back.
  • Using a sweeping motion, aim at the base of the fire and work the agent into the fire.
  • Watch the area for at least 15 minutes after the fire appears to be out to be sure it doesn’t re-ignite. If it is smoking, it’s not out.
  • Use a “buddy system,” in which someone is available to back you up or call for help if something goes wrong.

Did You Know…

The National Fire Protection Association has these suggestions for mounting your fire extinguisher on a wall:

  • If the unit weighs less than 40 pounds, the top of the unit should not be more than 5 feet above the floor when mounted.
  • For extinguishers weighing more than 40 pounds, the top of the unit should not be more than three and a half feet above the floor.