Portable Fire Extinguishers

Q: In regards to fire extinguisher inspections… when the annual fire extinguisher maintenance is done, say in June, does the monthly fire extinguisher inspection still need to be completed?

A: Yes. According to NFPA 10-2010, there are distinctly different requirements for the annual maintenance and the monthly inspection. Typically, the annual maintenance does NOT include the actions required for monthly inspections, although there is no reason why the same person could not perform both duties during the annual maintenance process.

Annual Maintenance requires the following to be confirmed:

  • A thorough examination of the following:
    • Mechanical parts of all extinguishers
    • Physical appearance
    • Components of electrically monitored systems
    • Hoses on wheeled-type extinguishers completely uncoiled and examined for damage
  • Tamper seals on rechargeable extinguishers must be removed and replaced with new seals
  • For extinguishers that require a 12-year hydro-static test, once every 6-years the extinguisher must be emptied and subjected to an internal examination
  • A verification collar must be installed on the outside of the extinguisher, underneath the valve after an internal examination
  • CO2 hose assemblies must have a conductivity test

Monthly Inspection requires the following to be confirmed:

  • Location in designated place
  • No obstruction to access or visibility
  • Pressure gauge reading or indicator in the operable range or position
  • Fullness determined by weighing or hefting for self-expelling-type extinguishers, cartridge-operated extinguishers, and pump tanks
  • Condition of tires, wheels, carriage, hose, and nozzle for wheeled extinguishers
  • Indicator for non-rechargeable extinguishers using push-to-test pressure indicators

So, you can see an annual maintenance activity does not meet the requirement for a monthly inspection, but there should be no reason why the same person could not perform both duties.

Warning Placards Above Class K Extinguishers

Q: We recently were cited for not having the placard placed on the wall above the K Fire Extinguisher, however, the “warning” on the front of the extinguisher is in red and it states: “WARNING” “IN CASE OF APPLIANCE FIRE, FIRST, ACTIVATE FIRE SUPPRESSION SYSTEM OR TURN OFF APPLIANCE TO REMOVE HEAT SOURCE”. The instructions on how to use the extinguisher is above that warning on the actual extinguisher. Does this meet the intent of the standard?

A: I don’t think so… While some surveyors and inspectors may accept this as meeting the intent of the standard, I’m not sure that it does. According to NFPA 10-2010, section 5.5.5.3, it says a placard shall be conspicuously placed near the Class K extinguisher that states that the fire protection system shall be actuated prior to using the fire extinguisher. A warning label on the extinguisher itself is not necessarily placed “near” the extinguisher. If the Technical Committee at NFPA wanted the sign on the extinguisher, they would have said that. Also, a warning label that is part of the fire extinguisher label is not necessarily considered to be “conspicuously” placed. People will not see the warning label on the extinguisher as easily as they will see a separate placard affixed to the wall above the extinguisher.

Also, the Meriam Webster definition of ‘Placard’ is: “A poster or sign for public display, either fixed to a wall or carried during a demonstration.” I don’t think a warning label on the extinguisher meets this definition. Also, section A.5.5.5.3 in the Annex says the placard should be 11 inches by 7 5/8 inches in size. That size sign is not typically possible on a Class K extinguisher. While the Annex section is not part of the enforceable section of the standard, it is considered to be explanatory material to assist the reader to understand the intentions of the Technical Committee who wrote the standards. I would conclude the Technical Committee wants a separate sign posted on the wall near the extinguisher.

I’m sure some surveyors may accept this warning label, but I would not. [Perhaps that is good that I’m not a surveyor anymore….?]

Sprinkler Inventory

Q: We are a life safety service company that provides consultation services for multiple hospitals. We had a hospital go through a survey recently, and the surveyor wrote them up for not having an inventory of sprinkler heads. Would you know where we could find this requirement for this inventory?

A: The surveyor may be looking at NFPA 13-2010, section 6.2.9.7, which does require the facility to have a spare sprinkler list, which is based on the different types of sprinklers in your facility and the quantity of those sprinklers. While this is not the same as saying an inventory of the sprinkler heads is required, you do need to know the types and quantities of sprinklers in your facility.

Or the surveyor may be looking at NFPA 25-2011 section 5.2.1, which requires an annual inspection of all the sprinkler heads. Usually, the hospital will contract this out to a sprinkler contractor and often the report simply says “All sprinkler heads inspected”, or something like that. The problem is, how does the hospital know that the contractor actually inspected every sprinkler head in the hospital? Did the contractor enter every room, every closet, every office, every OR, every equipment room, etc. in the facility? Without a detailed inventory or documentation (such as drawings of sprinklered areas) showing the heads were inspected in the respective areas, what assurance does the hospital (and the surveyor) have that every head was inspected?

But to be sure, there is no direct NFPA standard that says “Thou shalt inventory every sprinkler”, but it is well within the right of the authorities to request documentation that assures how the facility documented the spare sprinkler list and that the contractor inspected every head.

Sizing Fire Extinguishers

Q: I can find a lot of information about portable fire extinguishers but nowhere can I find what size is required for use in a hospital. Can you point me in the right direction? We specified 2.5 lbs. and 5 lbs. and no one can tell me what is correct.

A: Section 9.7.4.1 of the 2012 Life Safety Code says portable fire extinguishers must be selected, installed, inspected, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 10. NFPA 10-2010, section 5.1 says the selection of fire extinguishers for a given situation shall be determined by the applicable requirements of Sections 5.2 through 5.6 and the following factors:

  1. Type of fire most likely to occur
  2. Size of fire most likely to occur
  3. Hazards in the area where the fire is most likely to occur
  4. Energized electrical equipment in the vicinity of the fire
  5. Ambient temperature conditions
  6. Other factors

So, you must first determine the classification of the potential fire (Class A, Class B, Class C, or Class K) and then place an appropriate fire extinguisher nearby. How far away from the potential fire is determined on the capacity of the fire extinguisher and the hazard of the potential fire.

For example, Table 6.2.1.1 identifies the fire extinguisher size and placement for Class A hazards. The hazards are listed as Light, Ordinary, and Extra and the selection of the capacity of the fire extinguisher is dependent on the level of hazard and the area served by the extinguisher. For a fire extinguisher that has a capacity of 2-A, the maximum floor area of light hazard (most areas of hospitals are light hazard, other than Laboratories, Pharmacies, Central Storage, Boiler rooms, etc.), it can serve up to 6,000 square feet (3,000 sq. ft. for each unit of ‘A’… 2-A = 6,000 sq. ft.), and the maximum travel distance to get to a Class A extinguisher is 75 feet.

But be careful… as the level of hazard goes up, the area served by the same size extinguisher goes down. Even though they may have the same travel distance to get to an extinguisher (75 feet), the total area served by the extinguisher is reduced. Similarly, Class B, Class C, and Class K have their design limitations as well. You will note that the travel distance for a Class B extinguisher is either 30 feet or 50 feet, depending on the level of hazard and the capacity of the extinguisher. Also, all Class K extinguisher have a maximum travel distance of 30 feet.

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Q: In regards to portable fire extinguishers, I have a fully sprinkled building but my room that my hot water heaters are in are on the outside of the building. My furthest hot water room is more than 75 feet from the closet fire extinguisher. I looked in the Life Safety Code and have not found any reference on this. Do I need to place a fire extinguisher in this room?

A: Yes, you do… Section 9.7.4.1 of the 2012 LSC requires compliance with NFPA 10. According to chapter 6 of NFPA 10-2010, the installation of portable fire extinguishers is based on the classification of the extinguisher, the capacity of the extinguisher, and the level of hazard the extinguisher is expected to address.

For Class A extinguishers, the maximum travel distance to an extinguisher is 75 feet. For Class B extinguishers, the maximum travel distance is either 30 feet or 50 feet, depending on the capacity of the extinguisher and the expected level of hazard. For Class C extinguishers, the fire is started by electrical current, but the material that burns is either a Class A material or a Class B material, so you space the extinguishers on the class A or Class B requirements. For a Class K extinguisher, the maximum travel distance is 30 feet.

You need to install an extinguisher to be within the maximum travel distance limits.

Sprinkler Obstructions

Q: My question is in regard to NFPA 13 sprinkler obstruction compliance…We want to install some surveillance monitors in our security office along a wall. How much vertical clear space is required between the monitors to the ceiling, if the monitors will be 30 inches away, horizontally from the sprinkler head?

A: Those monitors may extend vertically up to the ceiling as long as they are not directly underneath a sprinkler head, and they are attached to the wall. You said they were 30 inches away horizontally from the sprinklers, so you should be okay.

The Annex section A.8.6.6 of NFPA 13-2010 says the following:

“The 18 in. (457 mm) dimension is not intended to limit the height of shelving on a wall or shelving against a wall in accordance with 8.6.6, 8.7.6, 8.8.6, and Section 8.9. Where shelving is installed on a wall and is not directly below sprinklers, the shelves, including storage thereon, can extend above the level of a plane located 18 in. (457 mm) below ceiling sprinkler deflectors. Shelving, and any storage thereon, directly below the sprinklers cannot extend above a plane located 18 in. (457 mm) below the ceiling sprinkler deflectors.”

While the monitor may not be shelves, the concept is the same.

Strange Observations – Sprinkler Pipe Supported From Ductwork

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

This is another picture of sprinkler pipe supported from HVAC ductwork, similar to last week’s Strange Observations.

I include it here to emphasize that sprinkler pipe cannot be supported from anything except the building structure itself.

I suspect I see this problem in 75% of the hospital where I consult… but then, I’m looking for it.

There is one exception to that rule… Sprinkler pipe may be suspended from a hanger that also supports ductwork, provided the hanger is designed to support the weight of the duct, the pipe, the water in the pipe, and an additional 250 lbs. (see NFPA 13-2010, 9.2.1.5). If you ever see sprinkler pipe suspended from the same hanger that supports ductwork, ask the installer to provide documentation that the hanger can support that weight.

Strange Observations – Sprinkler Pipe Suspended From Ductwork

Continuing in a series of strange things that I have seen while consulting at hospitals…

Some organizations fail to install sprinklers underneath the ductwork that is 48-inches wide or wider. This facility did not forget, but the sprinkler-fitter who installed this pipe for the sprinkler head attached it to the ductwork, which is not permitted.

The sprinkler pipe can only be suspended from the building itself (i.e. structural beams, joists, etc.), and not from anything else.

There is one exception to that rule… Sprinkler pipe may be suspended from a hanger that also supports ductwork, provided the hanger is designed to support the weight of the duct, the pipe, the water in the pipe, and an additional 250 lbs. (see NFPA 13-2010, 9.2.1.5). If you ever see sprinkler pipe suspended from the same hanger that supports ductwork, ask the installer to provide documentation that the hanger can support that weight.

Fire Extinguishers

Q: At our hospital there is some question about which type of portable fire extinguisher should be installed in our operating rooms. We can’t find an actual requirement for this and would appreciate your opinion.

A: I don’t think you will find anything in the NFPA codes and standards that recommends a type of fire extinguisher to be used in an operating room. To be sure, section 9.7.4.1 of the 2012 LSC says portable fire extinguishers must be selected, installed, inspected, and maintained in accordance with NFPA 10.

Section 5.1 of NFPA 10-2010 says the selection of fire extinguishers for a given situation shall be determined by the following factors:

(1) Type of fire most likely to occur

(2) Size of fire most likely to occur

(3) Hazards in the area where the fire is most likely to occur

(4) Energized electrical equipment in the vicinity of the fire

(5) Ambient temperature conditions

So, what types of fires are likely to occur in an operating room? I would say Type A fires (fires involving combustibles like paper, plastic, cardboard, linen); and Type B fires (fires involving combustible and flammable liquids, like skin prep alcohol); and Type C fires (fires started by electrical means). I don’t believe Class D fires (combustible metals) and Class K fires (cooking oils) are very likely in an operating room. 🙂

So, you need portable fire extinguishers that will cover ABC fires, but the most common ABC extinguisher is a dry powder and is not suitable to be used in an operating room. So, you could use a CO2 type extinguisher which could handle BC fires, as the CO2 is a clean agent that would not do any residual harm to the patient. But what to do about Class A fires? Most surgical procedures have sterile water in a basin in the sterile field of the surgery. You can teach the staff to use the sterile water on any Class A fire involving the patient or nearby.

Keep in mind, there is no requirement that you have to have portable fire extinguishers in the operating room. All you need is to meet the maximum travel distance to get to a fire extinguisher. You could place a Class BC extinguisher out in the corridor outside the operating room, which would be fine as long as you do not exceed the travel distance to get to a Class B extinguisher, which is 35 feet for a 5-lb. unit and 50 feet for a 10-lb. unit.

Fire Extinguishers

Q: Do fire extinguishers that are placed in patient care areas of a hospital have to be placed in a wall cabinet, or can they hang from the wall?

A: NFPA 10-2010 does not require extinguishers to be mounted in a wall-cabinet. They are permitted to be mounted on a wall without the use of a cabinet. But be aware that CMS limits all wall projections into the corridor to be no more than 4 inches, which the average 10-lb. extinguisher would exceed.

Consider the Oval brand of fire extinguishers, as they project less than 4 inches.