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Fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are an important part of the fire safety measures in any building. The main purpose of fire extinguishers is to help people make their way out of a burning building, but they can also be used by trained people to extinguish a small fire.

In Places of Worship, fire extinguishers should be modern appliances which comply with the BS EN 3 standard.  A wide selection of types and sizes are available that cover the different types of fire hazard that could be encountered, from specific hazards to the general level of coverage for protecting escape routes.

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Extinguishers for general coverage

The first consideration when choosing how many extinguishers to have is to make sure there is coverage for general fire risks within the building.  These include burning materials such as paper, cardboard, textiles and other solid materials (known as Class A materials)

Fire extinguishers are given a rating depending on the size and type of fire that the unit can be used to tackle. A basic level of fire extinguisher coverage is provided by units which have a fire rating of '13A' or greater. These extinguishers are often needed to secure a means of escape from the building and can control or extinguish small fires about the size of a waste paper bin. Some typical extinguishers that carry this rating include:

  • 9 litre Water
  • 6 litre foam
  • 3 or 6 litre water spray with additive
    (the size depends on the manufacturer and type of additive)

As a minimum, ensure there is at least one per floor level (although it is recommended to have more than one in most cases). There should be one extinguisher for every 200m2, but if the area is just over the 200m2 area, two extinguishers will be required. Extinguishers should be placed no further than 30 metres apart to make sure people can get to them without having to travel too far.

Foam extinguishers are usually smaller and lighter, and have the advantage that they can be used on 'Class B' fires as well - fires involving flammable liquids.  Similarly, small water spray with additive extinguishers usually have the distinct advantage of smaller size (and significantly less weight) and can be visually less obtrusive.

Extinguishers for specific hazards

Not all fires can be extinguished with water or foam, and some fires could even be made worse or pose a hazard to the user if used. It is common practice to put additional extinguishers of different types next to specific fire hazards like cookers and boilers. The selection of the correct extinguisher depends on the exact nature of the fire hazards in the area and should follow from the Risk Assessment.

In kitchens, a fire blanket should usually be present. The blanket, when placed over a fire in, say, a pan of burning fat, smothers the fire.  This prevent oxygen getting into the fire and extinguishes the fire (but it does not cool the fat that was burning, so removal could cause re-ignition).  The usual kind of fire blanket is a 'light duty' type, and it is usually recommended these are replaced after use.

In the smallest of buildings, it might be acceptable to use multipurpose extinguishers, such as a 2kg dry powder extinguisher.  These must be readily available within the premises, and the same rules about servicing and maintenance apply to these extinguishers. For buildings where the floor area is below 90m2 it might be acceptable to have only one extinguisher if the fire risk is considered very low. 

Dry powder fire extinguishers

Although powder might seem a good extinguisher (as it can tackle a number of fire types and is usually called 'multipurpose' for this reason) it is now becoming less acceptable to use these due to the mess that is made.  Many insurance companies are now suggesting that powder extinguishers are replaced for alternative types which do not leave a fine dusting of powder over everything in the area where the extinguisher was let off.

Because of the above, along with other safety and health concerns about the fine powder discharge, it would be recommended to avoid powder extinguisher, replacing them with other types when they need replacing, unless there are specific fire hazards that necessitate this kind of extinguisher. For most situations, a carbon dioxide extinguisher is often provided in combination with a water (or water spray/mist) extinguisherinstead.

Extinguisher types

The table below shows the most used modern extinguisher types that are available for use in Places of Worship.  The colour code is usually provided on a small coloured band or label. Older extinguishers were painted entirely in the colour of the colour code but are now usually considered to be beyond the service life of the extinguisher.

Type (Colour code)

Suitable for

Comments

Water
(red)

(With or without additive)

Wood, paper and textile Class A

Do not use on live electrical equipment due to the risk of electric shock.

Suitable for all areas of a building for general fire protection:

Clean - ideal for historic buildings.

OK for solid fuel boiler systems if no electrical fire hzards exist.

Dry Water Mist

(Red)

Wood, paper and textile Class A

Flammable liquids Class B

Cooking oils Class F

A relative newcomer, not to be confused with water spray extinguishers. 

Clean - ideal for historic buildings.

Can be used near live electrical equipment (usually up to 35kV, although electrical equipment that is alight must be switched off)

Foam (cream)

Wood, paper and textile Class A

Flammable liquids Class B

Do not use on live electrical equipment.

Suitable for all areas of a building especially where flammable liquids may be present, such as oil fuelled heating systems.

More efficient on class A fires than water smaller extinguishers can be used.

Suitable for use on fires involving wax (e.g. candles).

Powder (blue)

Wood, paper and textile Class A (see comments)

Flammable liquids Class B

Gas (e.g. natural gas) Class C  *see note below

Electrical fire risks - Class E

A general purpose fire extinguisher.

Often found in small all-purpose units.

Powder is usually not recommended for Class A fires, and in some cases the extinguisher is not suitable for this purpose.

The fine powder can be difficult and costly to clean and it must not be used in confined spaces.

Carbon Dioxide / CO2
(black)

Flammable liquids Class B

Recommended for use on fires involving live electrical equipment

Useful for locations electrical fire hazards exist and often found in kitchens and near organs or sound system racks.

Suitable for use on fires involving wax (e.g. candles).

Clean - ideal for historic buildings.

Not suitable for use in confined spaces.

Wet chemical
(Yellow)

Cooking oils Class F

Some may also be used on Class A fires.

Specially designed for putting out fires involving cooking oils.

*  Note that the recommended method for extinguishing gaseous fires is to remove the supply of gas, otherwise re-ignition or even an explosion could result. This should be carried out by trained personnel only.

Older 'Halon' (green) type extinguishers must be removed from service and replaced. Please contact your fire extinguisher service company for advice on replacement and disposal as the extinguishers need to be disposed of in a safe way because of the environmental impact of the contents.

Fire hose reels may be provided in some Places of Worship. These can be used on Class A fires (Wood, paper and textile) in the same way as a water extinguisher. Many are now  being replaced with water extinguishers as hoses are not generally recommended anymore.

Colour codes and signs

The bodies of many older fire extinguishers are likely to have been coloured depending on the colour codes given in the table above. New fire extinguishers are painted red at manufacture to conform with BS EN3, with a small coloured label, patch or coloured writing used to differentiate between the different types.

Old fire extinguishers and new fire extinguishers should generally not be mixed in the same area of a building because there could be confusion caused by the different standards and colour codes.  Do not paint older fire extinguishers red to match the new standard.  The numbers of the old colour-coded extinguishers are now diminishing as they are being replaced for modern units and it might be worth considering replacing any old ones with new ones.

Extinguishers should usually be marked with a sign.  Any fire extinguisher that is not immediately visible (for example, if it is placed in an alcove or extinguisher cabinet) must be indicated with a fire extinguisher sign. Extinguisher signs are red, show a white pictogram of an extinguisher alongside white flames.  It is recommended that the words "Fire Extinguisher" are present, along with details about the contents of the extinguisher.

An example of the standard fire extinguisher sign, shown without text.

Extinguishers should usually be fixed to the wall with the supplied clips, but in some Places of Worship this is not possible because it will affect historic building features. It would not often be appropriate for extinguishers to be placed directly on the floor. Small plastic or metal stands are readily available to take the extinguisher and a sign. 

Servicing and User Checks

Fire extinguishers of all kinds need regular inspections and most types need maintenance. Unless the extinguisher is of a type that does not need maintenance, it needs to be done by a reputable company, who would advise if new equipment is needed (for example, if it is old or damaged). The cost of this should be about 6 to 8 per extinguisher, but there might also be a callout charge and some charge for spares and refills. Look for a company who are registered with the Fire Extinguisher Trades Association (FETA).

Some smaller multipurpose extinguishers might not need the same service regime as their full-size counterparts.  Other kinds of extinguisher are now available with an extended life-span and do not need any servicing for 10 years if kept in a good condition.  Safelincs supply a series of Britannia P50 Fireworld extinguishers with a 10-year life span.

A regular check of the equipment should be made periodically for signs of damage and use or abuse. Most extinguishers are fitted with anti-tamper seals that tell you when the safety pin has been removed and some types have a pressure gauge that should normally point to a green section or to an OK indicator. It would be normal to do this simple check every month.

Commercial-grade extinguishers could give in excess of ten years service when looked after. In some situations, very old extinguishers are still being used and have not had a proper service schedule. These could be dangerous if used (due to the extinguisher being pressurised by a small cylinder of gas inside) or might not work when needed most.

Use of extinguishers

People should be nominated to use fire extinguishers and suitable training should be given to these people. Most fire extinguisher service companies provide suitable training courses and there are many other training providers who can provide fire extinguisher training.  Training is essential because a fire extinguisher in the hands of inexperienced or untrained person can be dangerous and can lead to the fire spreading or injury to the operator or others nearby.

It is now recommended that Fire Action posters do not include any wording that asks people to try to extinguish a fire using the equipment provided if they discover a fire (unless they have been trained and it is safe to do so).  A policy of extinguisher use should ideally be agreed, in that only trained and authorised personnel would use extinguishers providing their own safety is not put at any risk.

Further Information

For further information on fire extinguishers and other safety equipment, please visit the Website of our sponsor, Safelincs.

Safelincs is a fire safety supplier with headquarters in the UK and representations in France, Germany, Italy, Ireland and the USA. It is the central fire safety provider for the Church of England (ParishBuying) and the Catholic Church in the UK (ChurchMarketplace). Safelincs focuses on the requirements of and benefits for its customers and develops improved fire safety solutions for church organisations and all its other customers. Examples are its service free Fireworld P50 fire extinguishers which are approved by the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group and save church organisations substantial amounts of money. Another example are its dry water mist extinguishers (E-Series) which can be used in historical buildings or in proximity to antiques with only the most minute impact on the vulnerable objects. Safelincs is also the largest online fire safety provider in the UK. It offers over 3500 different fire safety products and services.

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