THE IMPORTANCE OF PORTABLE FIRE EXTINGUISHERS

By Michael H. Acquilano, President, FireServ

There are many types of fire and life safety equipment that are required in a typical retail store. These include sprinkler and fire alarm systems, which are triggered automatically in the event of fire. These systems have proven to save lives and reduce property damage.

However, before these systems even have a chance to activate, there is an effective “manual” means of dealing with a fire situation: the portable fire extinguisher. In the event of a small fire in your store, the first things store personnel should do is make sure everyone in the store is safe, have the store evacuated and call the local fire department to make them aware of the situation. Then, if the fire is small and contained, the fire extinguisher can be used to extinguish the fire in a quick and effective manner. According to national statistics, 94% of the time an extinguisher is used, it puts out the fire within two minutes.

Before a fire situation happens, it is very important that the store has already put into place a “proactive” approach to fire safety. This approach, as it relates specifically to portable fire extinguishers, should start upon either moving into an existing space or building a new store. Either the General Contractor or your Fire Extinguisher Contractor should find out from the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) the placement and type of extinguishers required.

Typically, the AHJ will follow the guidelines set forth in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, NFPA-10. Although the layout of a particular store or special hazards may call for more protection, the average store requires one extinguisher every 3000 square feet or part there of and no more than 75 feet of travel distance between each unit.

There are different types of extinguishing agents found in fire extinguishers, such as water, carbon dioxide, clean agents and dry chemical. The most common type unit found in retail stores is the multi purpose dry chemical type. This type is important because it is classified “ABC,” which means it can be used on the main three types of fires:

A – Ordinary Combustibles (wood, paper, cloth and many plastics)

B – Flammable Liquids (gas, oil and grease)

C - Electrical Equipment (computers, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery and appliances)

Once the proper type of extinguisher is selected, it should be installed in a visible area so that the top of the unit is no more than 5 feet from the floor and the bottom is no less than 4 inches from the floor. It is also recommended that an arrow sign be placed above the extinguisher to further enhance its visibility. The unit should be tagged by a Fire Extinguisher Contractor that, if required, is licensed by the proper city or state authorities.

Although the extinguishers’ operating instructions are located on the front of the unit, it is important that the store has already put a training program in place for managers and other associates on how to properly use the fire extinguisher and where each unit is located in the store. This information should be passed on to each new employee. Your Fire Extinguisher Contactor will be able to assist you in proving the proper learning materials for such a program.

The most common usage instruction is the “PASS” method:

P – Hold extinguisher upright and pull ring pin

A – Start back 20 feet aim at base of fire

S – Squeeze lever

S – Sweep side to side

Now that the extinguishers are in place and personnel is aware of them, a maintenance program must be put in place. This requires participation by both designated store employees and your Fire Extinguisher Contractor. Per NFPA-10, store personnel should perform a monthly quick check of the fire extinguisher, noting the date and initials of the person performing the inspection on the monthly inspection tag (provided by Fire Extinguisher Contractor) attached to the unit. This “inspection” includes making sure extinguishers are in their proper locations, unobstructed, and operating instruction labels facing forward. This quick check should also include seeing that the safety seal is not broken and the pressure gauge reading is in the operable range.

On at least an annual basis, the Fire Extinguisher Contractor must perform an on-site “maintenance” of each extinguisher. This service includes all aspects of an inspection, plus a thorough examination of all mechanical parts and checking the discharge hose and nozzle for obstructions. It also includes recording and noting the need for 6-Year Maintenance or Hydrostatic Testing. These services involve taking the extinguisher apart and checking all related parts, agents and accessories. The month and year of these services is noted on a label affixed to the fire extinguisher.

The Fire Extinguisher Industry, in conjunction with local AHJ’s is continually working together to educate the public on the importance of portable fire extinguishers. The effect of extinguishing a fire at its earliest stage can prevent injury and death, as well as minimize property damage. Statistics have shown that 93% of deaths and 95% of property damage occurs after the fire grows beyond its early stage. The extinguisher is not only a reliable method of fire prevention, but a cost effective one as well. Retailers should note that the cost of new portable fire extinguishers is less than one cent per square foot.

In conclusion, safety and the prevention of loss of life shall be the two most important issues. Therefore, it must be stressed that fire extinguishers are intended to put out a small fire in its initial stages. No store employee should try to put out a fire that is blazing. Fires spread quickly and the smoke and gases emitted from the fire can be toxic. If there is any doubt about the employee’s ability to put out the fire, he or she should back out of the store exit immediately, attempting to close the door behind them to limit oxygen in the building, then wait for the local Fire Department to arrive.

Author Bio

Michael H. Acquilano is the President of FireServ, which provides nationwide fire protection compliance for retailers. He has been in the fire protection industry since 1989. FireServ is based in Brooklyn, New York.

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