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In this section, we have listed some of the questions people have asked, together with our answer, in the hope that the information may be useful to others.

We aim to answer your questions in a jargon free way and will add further questions and answers as they are received.

I have a fire extinguisher in my shop which I bought from Halfords. Do I have to have it tested?

Most of the fire extinguishers that these shops sell are of the disposable type & cannot be serviced; instead they usually have a discard by or replace by date printed on the body somewhere. These fire extinguishers are really for cars, caravans & houses.

When you have a business, there are laws in place which require you to have the extinguisher regularly tested, so you should always make sure you buy one which can actually be tested.

I should ask an extinguisher company to check it for you.

How often should my fire extinguishers be serviced?

The short answer is once every 12 - months; this is the recommendation of a code of practice written by the British Standards Institute called BS5306-3:2003. You can have the serviced more regularly if your Risk Assessment identifies the need, but most types of property & business stick with the annual check. Your own regular checks are also important; just to ensure that the fire extinguishers are still in position, have not been set off or damaged. These self checks should be done at least once a month & recorded in a register or fire logbook.

How long do fire extinguishers last; the firm who come here always seem to be replacing them?

Good question; it depends on a number of factors I suppose. If they are good quality, Kitemarked & purchased from a reputable supplier, they should last at least 10 years. Harsh environmental conditions, poor maintenance or misuse can drastically reduce this but you need to make sure the engineer explains or even shows you the ones which need replacing, as unfortunately; some firms operate commission based incentives.

What is AR Foam; our insurance company have said we need to make sure our extinguishers contain this?

This is Alcohol Resistant Foam. Are you using an alcohol based liquid where you work? Most foam extinguishers contain a type of foam which although effective on most types of solids & liquids, but it does not work on alcohol. The alcohol breaks down the normal foam, stopping it from creating a blanket over the burning material, so if you or the insurance company have identified an liquid containing alcohol, & it is in sufficient quantity or use to require a fire extinguisher, you need to specifically ask your service provider for AR Foam.

We had to use a fire extinguisher on a car in our workshop yesterday; it was a black one filled with gas. Can we get this filled up or do we have to buy a new one?

It sounds to me like you have used a Co2 (carbon dioxide gas) type. With you saying that it is black, it must be at least 12 years old as they all became red in 1996. You cannot just get it refilled because of its age; it must undergo something called an Overhaul Service which includes fitting a new valve, pressure testing the body & usually repainting. Most service providers will be able to swap your empty one for a full one which has undergone the Overhaul Service & as long as you have it checked every year it should last for 10 more years.

Why are there so many different types of fire extinguisher?

I guess it is because nobody has yet invented one which can put out all the different types of fire. Water is the traditional type & it does a good job on wood, paper, cloth etc. but it is not effective on burning liquids, gasses or electrical equipment.

Foam can do the job of water & most liquids but is more expensive & still not generally safe if used on electrical equipment.

Powder extinguishers come close to being truly multi-purpose as they work on everything water & foam can deal with, are safe with limited effectiveness on electrical equipment & can even be used on gas fires. The downside is they cause widespread dust which can cause problems with equipment, visibility & breathing.

Co2 extinguishers are the most effective on electrical equipment & can even be used on burning liquids in a limited capability, but they do not work well on wood, paper etc.

It gets more complicated with different types of foam, powder & even something called Wet Chemical, so it is important to survey your building & activity properly before deciding which types you need.

Why do we have to have our extinguishers serviced?

One answer is that it is a requirement of fire safety law & if you don't have them regularly serviced, you are indeed breaking these laws. Practically however, fire extinguishers are mechanically operated items, most containing some kind of high pressure gas or charge inside. The service is to make sure that they will work if they are needed & that they are safe; otherwise they are just ornaments & may even be dangerous.

Where is the best place to put our fire extinguishers?

Your service provider should advise you on this but there is a British Standards code of practice called BS5306-8:2000 which covers the type & best locations to have your extinguishers.

I remember a few years ago when I started out as a service engineer, most rooms would have their own fire extinguisher, but nowadays they are generally put next to fire exits or on routes leading to the fire exits. This is to encourage people to make their way toward an exit, as this is usually where the fire alarm points are; then, once the alarm has been activated, you can pick up the fire extinguisher & walk back toward the fire knowing that the exit is clear behind you.

Do we have to arrange fire extinguisher training with the Fire Brigade or does your company provide it?

The Fire Brigade may be willing to give some training, but you will probably have go to one of their centres, & you will also have to pay for the course. We do provide the training & it will at your own premises. We have a number of different packages available ranging from free User Tutorials through to in depth Fire Warden training. If you complete the contact section on our website, somebody will ring you to discuss.

We have our fire extinguisher checked annually by a competent person. Please could you let me know how often a discharge test and recharge needs to be done for each type of extinguisher?

To be a competent person, the person should be registered as a BAFE Technician. This is the recognised standard for competency. Most types of fire extinguisher should be discharge tested & recharged once every five years. Exceptions are Co2 (carbon dioxide) which do not require a discharge test & some types of stored pressure Dry Powder which may be factory sealed or disposable in nature. Discharging water extinguishers is straight forward but environmental concerns need to be addressed when discharging foams & powders. It is also a good idea to let a member of staff discharge the extinguisher before it is recharged; there is no substitute for hands on training.

As a company XXXX are interested in training one individual in the different types of extinguishers, when and how to use them. These skills would then be taught by this individual to the rest of the work force (small numbers. Is there such a course that would cover this?

It is your decision as to whether this is acceptable as defined by your own fire risk assessment. I would advise that it is acceptable within limitations. Our own courses are charged for as a complete package & can accommodate up to 10 persons. The course costs £385 + vat; this covers all 10 persons. The course would still cost the same however if only 1 person attended, so it could make sense to included everyone to start with & deal with it in one hit.

Alternatively, the Fire Brigade & possibly some other organisations run courses where you could send one person, who would join people from other companies, but I do not know the cost of this.

How often do fire alarms have to be serviced? someone told me every six months,I thought the law said annually?

This is not really my area, but I suspect it's actually down to the frequencies defined in your Fire Risk Assessment rather than a mandatory fixed interval.

In some instances, weekly in house tests are required as well as annual or bi-annual testing by an approved company.

What is the gas that is in the foam that firefighters use?

If you are referring to the foam which is applied from a fire truck or tender, then, so far as I know, it does not have a gas. The foam is a solution of water & foam concentrate & is expelled by pressure from the mains water supply or a pump. It is likely that the nozzle has a means to draw in air as the solution flows through in order to aspirate (make it more foamy).

Foam from a fire extinguisher does have a gas; it is not there to generate the foam. In the absence of mains pressure or a pump, it is needed as an expellant. The gas used in this instance is usually nitrogen, but can also be carbon dioxide or simple compressed air.

At what height do we have to put our fire extinguishers at? We are a business and have been told that ours are too high.

Fire blankets & small fire extinguishers can be wallmounted at a maximum height of 1.5m to the top. Small extinguishers are anything up to 4kg in gross weight.

All extinguishers with a gross weight of more than 4kg can be wallmounted at a maximum height of 1m to the top.

Why should we not use the red water filled extinguisher for electrical fires?

Since1996, all approved fire extinguishers have been coloured red.

Water conducts electricity (in fact it is the impurities within the water) & so is unsafe to use on fires involving electricity. The current may not conduct along the actual jet of water, but it surely will travel along the floor or any other wetted surface.

Electricity itself does not burn; it has no substance. It is merely present when something else is on fire. Imagine a photocopier which is on fire & still plugged into the electrical supply; we would refer to this as an electrical fire, but if the electricity is switched off, it is actually the plastic components which are on fire.

This is one of the reasons why we have different types of fire extinguisher.

What does a health and safety officer issue if he considers there is a risk of personal injury?

A "Safety Officer" has no legal powers, however, an Inspector from the Health and Safety Executive has the power to issue:

A Prohibition Notice which suspends an activity immediately until such time as either an appeal is successful (unlikely) or a dangerous procedure, machine or similar is made safe. (HASAW Act Section 22)

An Improvement Notice which requires low risk procedures or machines etc. to be rectified within a set period of time - which must be more than two weeks as there is a two week appeal allowed - again unlikely. (HASAW Act Section 21)

A Caution which specifies the hazard and which allows the person who has committed the misdemeanour to sign that he/she is aware that they have contravened the law and accepts responsibility. ( I have only seen one of these in 30 plus years!)

He can also issue a letter explaining where the faults are and the actions he would expect to rectify such faults. This is the usual way that the law is enforced.

A written safety policy is required by who?

A written safety policy is required by anyone with five employees or more. Section 2(3) Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAW Act) - though the Act does not mention 5 employees!

Do I need to have my stored pressure extinguishers (Water & Foam)tested or replaced after ten years.............or can I carry on having them serviced every 5 years ( Inspected every year)?

In accordance with the British Standard code of practice [BS5306-3:2003] for maintenance of portable fire extinguishers, & BAFE Specification, all fire extinguishers must be serviced at least once every 12-months.

The water & foam units you have must also undergo a 5-yearly Extended Service [Discharge Test & Recharge].

There is not a requirement to have them replaced after 10-years, but some companies advise this at the end of a warranty period; usually 5 or 10 years.

In our experience, fire extinguishers can remain in service for up to 20-years where environmental conditions are favourable & proper maintenance is carried out.

An exception is factory sealed disposable units which should have a "discard by" date clearly printed on the body of the extinguisher; normally small capacity powder units designed for cars & purchased from high street stores.

If i have a record of training on the use of extinguishers (from 10 years ago) is this still acceptable for todays requirements?

There is not a definitive time frame (that I am aware off) for the frequency of this type of training, nor a duration for which a certificate lasts.

A fire risk assessment needs to ask if the training provided is sufficient; it needs a quantifiable answer based on your own circumstances.

If nothing has changed in the 10-year period & you are still up to speed with the information & techniques, you could argue that nothing further is required.

We normally follow the lead of other similar training courses such as First Aid & Health & Safety & go with a recommended period not exceeding 3 years between refresher courses.

How do I find a reliable firm to check extinguishers in our community hall?  How much should I expect to pay for an annual service?

The fire protection trade has a number or third party approval schemes looking at many aspects of the business.

By far the most important approval is BAFE.

Click this link for more information regarding BAFE & similar schemes that ensure quality & reliability.

The amount you should pay depends on the number & type of fire extinguishers you have, & also the type of service option.

I have asked one of our Technical Advisors to contact you; he will provide a quotation for us to carry out the service which you can compare with your current service provider.


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