Fire Extinguishers in Vehicles

Q: What is the standard on fire extinguishers in work vehicles? We have them in our transit vans to our home health nurses. Do we need them inspected and retagged every year like our buildings? Also do they need a monthly check as well?

A: I am not aware of any NFPA code or standard that requires portable fire extinguishers inside vehicles used/owned/leased by healthcare organizations. If there is a requirement to have them, it may come from your insurance provider.

However, the expectation is once you have them, you must maintain them. So that would mean you need to inspect them monthly, and provide maintenance service on an annual basis.

Fire Extinguishers

Q: Are portable fire extinguishers required in business occupancies?

A: Yes… Section 38.3.5 of the 2012 Life Safety Code says portable fire extinguishers must be provided in every business occupancy in accordance with Section references NFPA 10 for installation, inspection, and maintenance of portable fire extinguishers.

Fire Extinguisher Signs

Q: I was wondering if there was a specific regulation that states exactly where fire extinguisher signs need to be located. Is there a difference between patient area and staff area? Looking over the new Life Safety Code regulations I have not been able to get a specific answer on where signage location is mandatory.

A: The only thing I can find is section of NFPA 10-2010, which says where visual obstructions of fire extinguishers cannot be completely avoided, means shall be provided to indicate the extinguisher location. The Annex section says acceptable means of identifying the fire extinguisher locations include arrows, lights, signs, or coding of the wall or column.

 So, while there is no direct requirement to install signs over fire extinguishers, you may do so. However, be aware: Some AHJs will expect signs identifying the locations of all extinguishers once you start using signs. Their logic is, if you use signs to identify the location of some extinguishers, then your staff will expect to see signs for all extinguishers.

The AHJs do have the right to interpret the code as they see fit. I suggest you ask your AHJs to see if they would require all of the extinguishers have signs.

4-Inch Corridor Projection

Q: With the adoption of the new 2012 Life Safety Code by CMS, we had a discussion about projections from the corridor wall. Since the LSC only allows projections to be 4 inches, the question that came up was in regards to fire extinguishers mounted to the wall and not recessed as they project out from the wall about 7 inches. Will we be required to recess them or will they be allowed? The same question was raised about wall mounted telephones?

A: Actually, the 2012 LSC allows a 6-inch projection into the corridor [see], but CMS’ Final Rule published May 4, 2016 said they will enforce the more restrictive 4-inch maximum projection into the corridor, based on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For all healthcare facilities that receive Medicare & Medicaid funds, they must comply with CMS’ exception to the 2012 LSC.

To answer your question, there are no exceptions to the 4-inch maximum projection rule. So, anything projecting more than 4 inches into the corridor, including fire extinguishers and telephones, would likely be cited by a surveyor or inspector.

I read a survey report just the other day where the surveyor cited the hospital for having an ABHR dispenser that projected into the corridor by 4 1/4 inches. So, AHJs are citing anything that projects more than 4-inches into the corridor, including fire extinguishers.

This may be a good opportunity to consider oval-shaped fire extinguishers that do not project more than 4 inches into the corridor. Take a look at these compliant fire extinguishers from Oval brand:


Fire Extinguishers in Chute Rooms?

Q: Our hospital is wondering if it is a requirement to have fire extinguishers in our linen/trash chute room? If so where can I find the code reference?

A: No… it is not a requirement to have portable fire extinguishers inside the trash/linen discharge room, or the trash collection room. However, it is a requirement to have a properly classified fire extinguisher within the maximum travel distance for that extinguisher and the level of hazard it is intended to handle from everywhere in the facility, which would include the trash collection room. The extinguisher would have to be a Class A:B and located within the maximum travel distance for a Class A:B (probably 75 feet).

MRI Fire Extinguisher

Q: Do the accreditation organizations require a fire extinguisher inside the MRI room, or can it be located in the MRI control room?

A: The accreditation organizations would follow what NFPA 10 requires. NFPA 10-2010 has limitations on travel distance for portable extinguishers. An extinguisher inside the room with the magnet is not required provided the travel distance to get to the extinguisher meets the requirements set forth in NFPA 10. As an example: The maximum travel distance to get to a Class A extinguisher is 75 feet. But the travel distance to get to a Class B extinguisher is either 30 feet or 50 feet, depending on the capacity of the extinguisher and the level of hazard for the potential fire. But to answer your question, I don’t think the accreditors would require an extinguisher inside the MRI room, provided you do not exceed the travel distance to retrieve it. Also, be aware you need a non-ferrous extinguisher, but I’m sure you already knew that.

Water-Mist Fire Extinguishers in the ORs

Q: Our facility recently installed water-mist fire extinguishers in all of our operating rooms, which is the sole fire suppressant. Is this acceptable?

A: It could be okay to have water-mist portable fire extinguishers in the operating rooms, provided there is a Class B:C fire extinguisher within 50 feet travel distance from inside the ORs.

The typical water-mist fire extinguisher is rated for Class A and Class C fires; both of which are possible in an operating room. But what about Class B fires? Most operating rooms are known to have flammable liquids, and a Class B fire extinguisher would be required. NFPA 10 says the travel distance to a Class B fire extinguisher is either 30 feet for low capacity extinguishers and low hazard areas, or 50 feet to moderate capacity extinguishers and low to moderate hazards. The OR could be rated as a low hazard area, but typically a Class 10-B CO2 extinguisher qualifies for a 50-foot travel distance and a Class 5-B CO2 extinguisher qualifies for the 30-foot travel distance.

But I would suggest that your Infection Control people weigh-in on this debate because the typical water-mist fire extinguisher consists of tap water, pressurized with compressed air. That is a recipe for a breeding-ground for germs. I’ve seen some hospitals use distilled water in their water-mist fire extinguishers and pressurize it with nitrogen, to discourage germ growth. But the IC folks should have a say in this because a water-mist fire extinguisher would be expected to be used on a patient who is on fire, in surgery with an open cavity.

Here is what I would suggest:

  • Remove the water-mist fire extinguishers from the operating rooms.
  • Install 10-lb Class 10-B:C CO2 portable fire extinguishers inside each OR. This will handle all Class B and Class C fires that may occur in the OR. Discharging a CO2 extinguisher in an operating room would not be detrimental to the patient.
  • Rely on the staff having sterile water in the operating field to extinguish any Class A fires that may occur. Sterile water dosed on a patient would not be detrimental to the patient.
  • Definitely remove all Class ABC dry chemical fire extinguishers from the surgery department, so they will not be accidentally used on a patient. Nearly the last thing you want is dry powder sprayed into an open cavity of a patient during surgery.

You say the water-mist fire extinguishers are the sole fire suppressant. Does the OR have water-based fire protection sprinklers? If not, why not? There have been some mistaken ideas that water drips from sprinklers and some surgeons ‘prohibit’ sprinklers in their ORs. While it is true that a defective sprinkler could drip water, it is extremely rare and unlikely. Nevertheless, a pre-action sprinkler system would be an acceptable answer as the sprinkler pipe over each OR would be dry.

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.

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Q: Are fire extinguishers required to be placed in mechanical rooms in our hospital? I’ve searched NFPA 10 and the Life Safety Code and haven’t found anything concrete. The mechanical rooms in our facility are strictly boiler rooms, electrical control panel rooms, and so on. They are considered restricted areas and are always kept locked, with access granted to just the facilities staff and the security staff. Any help you can provide is greatly appreciated.

A: Yes, according to sections and of the 2012 Life Safety Code, you must be in full compliance with NFPA 10 (2010 edition) for maximum travel distance to the location of a portable fire extinguisher, in all areas of your facility. Each classification of extinguishers has their own different requirements, as follows:

Class A Extinguishers

Maximum travel distance to extinguisher:                  75 feet

Maximum floor area for each extinguisher:               11,250 sq. ft.

Maximum floor rating per unit of ‘A’:                       3,000 sq. ft. for Light (Low) Hazard

1,500 sq. ft. for Ordinary (Moderate) Hazard

1,000 sq. ft. for Extra (High) Hazard


Class B Extinguishers

Light (Low) Hazard:

5-B                  30 feet maximum travel distance

10-B                50 feet maximum travel distance

Ordinary (Moderate) Hazard:

10-B                30 feet maximum travel distance

20-B                50 feet maximum travel distance

Extra (High) Hazard:

40-B                30 feet maximum travel distance

80-B                50 feet maximum travel distance

Class C Extinguishers

Class C fires are started with electrical current, but the actual fuel that burns is either a Class A or a Class B hazard. Therefore, Class C extinguishers should be mounted and located according to either Class A or Class B requirements, depending on the potential fire.

Class K Extinguishers

Maximum travel distance is 30 feet.

Even mechanical rooms where very few people have access are required to be protected with portable fire extinguishers, so make an assessment of what the potential fuel that could catch on fire, and obtain the classification of extinguisher(s) that meets that potential fuel, and space them out accordingly.

Fire Extinguisher Inspections

Q: I work in a 420 bed Hospital and during a recent survey we got cited for our yearly inspection dates on our fire extinguishers, which I understand. But on the monthly inspection dates, does the inspector put the date they do the inspection or the date of the next month?

A: For monthly inspections of portable fire extinguishers, NFPA 10 (2010 edition) section says at a minimum of 30 day intervals, the date the inspection was performed and the initials of the person performing the inspection must be recorded. So each month, the person making the inspection must record the date that the inspection is made, on the extinguisher tag. Most authorities want to see an actual date, written in a month/day format provided the year is clearly identified on the tag. Initials of the individual conducting the inspection are usually accepted over actual signatures.