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….?]

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.

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.

Fire Extinguishers in an ASC

Q: We have a 1400 square foot ambulatory surgical center (ASC). In the plans there are only 5 Fire Extinguishers throughout the facility. I looked at 2012 Life Safety Code and the referenced NFPA 10-2010 but still not sure. What are the locations and how many fire extinguishers should be in this 3 operating room 1400 square foot ASC?

A: The placement of portable fire extinguishers is determined on the length of travel distance to get to a fire extinguisher…. It is not determined by the total square footage of the facility. According to NFPA 10-2010, the maximum travel distance to get to a fire extinguisher is dependent on the classification of the fire extinguisher, the capacity of the fire extinguisher, and the potential level of hazard from the fire.

Class A fire extinguishers are for normal combustibles, such as paper, wood, plastic and linens. The maximum travel distance to get to a Class A extinguisher is 75 feet for all capacities of Class A extinguishers, and all potential levels of hazard from the fire. That means you need a Class A extinguisher within 75 feet of all paper, wood, plastic and/or linen. Since paper, wood, plastic and linen are nearly everywhere in a healthcare facility, you will need a Class A fire extinguisher within 75 feet of everywhere inside the facility.

Class B fire extinguishers are for flammable liquids, such as alcohol, alcohol-based hand-rub (ABHR) solution, and xylene. The maximum travel distance to get to a Class B extinguisher is either 30 feet or 50 feet, depending on the capacity of the Class B fire extinguisher, and the level of hazard of the potential flammable liquid fire. The capacity of a Class B extinguisher is pre-determined by the manufacturer, and is identified on the extinguisher label. Usually, it is determined by the ability of the extinguisher to extinguish a fire, so the quantity of the product in the extinguisher is a factor. According to Table 6.3.1.1 of NFPA 10-2010, where the level of the potential hazard is low, a 5-B extinguisher is only permitted a 30-foot travel distance, but a 10-B extinguisher is permitted a 50-foot travel distance. Similarly, if the level of potential hazard is moderate, then a 10-B extinguisher is permitted a 30-foot travel distance, and a 20-B extinguisher is permitted a 50-foot travel distance.

Class C fire extinguishers are for electrical fires. An electrical fire is started by electricity, but the actual substance that burns is either Class A (normal combustibles) or Class B (flammable liquids). Therefore, where potential electrical fires are expected, then a Class C extinguisher is needed, based on the maximum travel distance to get to the extinguisher on either Class A or Class B standards.

Class D fire extinguishers are for combustible metals such as magnesium, zirconium, and potassium, which a typical healthcare facility does not have. Therefore, Class D extinguishers are not required if you do not have any of the combustible metals.

Class K extinguishers are for fires from cooking appliances that involve combustible cooking media (vegetable or animal oils and fats). These are found in kitchens and the maximum travel distance to get to a Class K extinguisher is 30 feet.

The determination of the level of hazard for a Class B potential fire is subjective and could vary depending on the surveyor and authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). For a healthcare facility, a low level of hazard would be areas where individual (or low quantities) of ABHR dispensers or bottles are located, and low levels of alcohol or xylene are located. A potential hazard of flammable liquids is moderate where larger quantities of flammable liquids are stored. But be careful: Based on the information in NFPA 10-2010, you would need Class B extinguishers with a 10-B rating with a maximum travel distance of 50 feet to cover potential fires from ABHR dispensers. This is often overlooked by designers when they are placing portable fire extinguishers in new facilities. Instead of the usual 75 maximum travel distance to get to a Class A extinguisher, you will need to place the Class B extinguishers with a maximum 50-foot travel distance to cover potential fires from ABHR dispensers.

There are fire extinguishers that have the rating to fight Class A, Class B, and Class C fires all in one extinguisher. These are typically ABC dry powder extinguishers, but there are other media types, such as clean agent extinguishers that can achieve an ABC rating. But dry powder extinguishers are not desirable in operating rooms where the possibility of infection is high if the dry powder extinguisher is activated. Therefore, many healthcare facilities rely on water-mist Class A:C extinguishers and a carbon dioxide (CO2) Class B inside the operating room. But you would have to make sure the water-mist extinguishers are charged with distilled water and nitrogen to prevent the growth of pathogens.

Other healthcare facilities do not use water-mist extinguishers in the operating room and rely on the sterile water in a bowl in the sterile field to extinguish any Class A fires that may occur. They then find Class B:C extinguishers to cover Class B and Class C potential fires. Keep in mind, there is no requirement that portable fire extinguishers have to be located inside each operating room. The fire extinguishers just have to be located within the maximum travel distance permitted for each classification of extinguisher, capacity of the extinguisher, and the level of hazard for the potential fire. But be careful: Some operating rooms are rather large, and it might be more than 30 feet to travel from the far corner of the operating room, to the Class B extinguisher in the hallway.

Class K extinguishers are required in kitchens, and the maximum travel distance to get to a Class K extinguisher is 30 feet. A placard needs to be installed above the Class K extinguisher that informs the staff to activate the kitchen hood suppression system first, before using the Class K extinguisher.

Mechanical Room Fire Extinguishers

Q: What are your thoughts on using CO2 extinguishers in an HVAC mechanical room, instead of an ABC type?

A: It likely would be a situation where you would be non-compliant with NFPA 10-2010, and therefore you would not be compliant with the 2012 LSC. A CO2 extinguisher carries a BC rating, meaning it is classified for use on flammable liquid fires and electrical fires. But what about fires in your mechanical room that are caused by normal combustibles (paper, cardboard, plastic, linen, etc.)? I’ve yet to see a mechanical room that did not have some level of combustibles stored in the room (filters, boxes of spare parts, trash bags, etc.).

I would recommend ABC fire extinguishers for all mechanical rooms, and the dry powder type is the most common and affordable to use. However, if the mechanical room has sensitive electronic equipment, then perhaps a Clean Agent ABC type extinguisher would be more appropriate.

CO2 extinguishers have a limited value, and should only be used in areas where you have flammable liquids in use and storage, such as laboratories, pharmacies, and perhaps a grounds garage.

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 9.7.4.1. Section 9.7.4.1 references NFPA 10 for installation, inspection, and maintenance of portable fire extinguishers.