ABC Dry Powder Fire Extinguishers

Q: We are doing a fire extinguisher annual maintenance on a Hospital and find that there is a high volume of ABC dry powder units through the site and very few CO2 units. The question we are asking is this a problem? Are there regulations for a healthcare site to use other CO2 in certain areas?

A: The only regulation concerning fire extinguishers in healthcare is NFPA 10 (2010 edition). NFPA 10 requires that the classification of the fire extinguisher be matched with the classification of the potential fire. However, there are infection control issues to be concerned about and an ABC dry powder FE would not be a good selection for use in an operating room or a procedure room. There is no regulation that says you can’t use an ABC dry powder in an operating room or procedure room, but from a practical point of view… it doesn’t make sense. Some hospitals use CO2 FEs in operating rooms for flammable liquid fires on a patient, however CO2 may cause frostbite. Other hospitals rely on sterile water supply in the sterile field to extinguish flammable liquid fires on a patient, but do not rely on water-mist FEs for this purpose as the water in the water-mist FEs may contain bacteria.

An ABC dry powder FE may not be a good choice for critically sensitive equipment such as computer rooms. A risk assessment may reveal that a Halon or a FM-200 type extinguisher is more appropriate. In the Laboratory where there are flammable liquids in use, a CO2 extinguisher is the proper choice. Hospitals would be expected to have a documented risk assessment conducted, that determines what type of FE should be used in certain areas.