Fire extinguishers are common at a lot of properties nowadays, particularly the larger and multi-occupied ones. Often, they’re not noticed day-to-day, but people understand that these can be used if there was a fire to defend.
However, reality is often different, with most people not even being aware of how and when to use them, never mind checking that they’re the correct ones and regularly serviced.
In actual fact, they may be more useful as a door-stop for people.
Well managing property means you do have to correctly deal with them, without getting bogged-down in all the techie detail.
Therefore, here are our top seven pointers to get to grips with. These deliberately take a bigger-picture look on things to ensure everything is co-ordinated rather than getting dragged into just one area.
1. The Right Basis
Unfortunately, it’s not black and white as to when and how you need fire extinguishers at a property.
Many years ago, it was, but now it requires the right responsible and competent person to make a risk-based decision.
Practically this means through a Fire Risk Assessment and deciding under various guidelines whether this form of fire-fighting equipment is suitable, and to what degree.
And surprisingly this has become less in certain circumstances, particularly the communal stairs and areas of residential blocks and even some commercial ones where they won’t exist unless a very risky area like near an electricity cupboard.
The logic is that these are fire-escape routes anyway with little chance of a fire actually beginning and needing fighting. Plus, there may not be suitably trained people around to correctly use these, and there is a greater problem of them being tampered with by others.
So, in short, get the right Fire Risk Assessor or contractor to come and re-assess. Even where they already exist, it could be a case of them needing to be removed and therefore making one less maintenance cost.
2. What’s Being Covered
One of the first issues to clarify before launching into the detail of what actual fire extinguishers are required, is knowing what areas of a property need covering.
This is particularly important for larger and multi-let properties where there may be different people arranging for different areas, for example tenants and occupiers for their own demised areas and the landlord and managing agent for communal stairs and areas.
These will relate to each other to some degree, however different people being responsible for their own areas at the end of the day.
So, a well-occupied area may well have good cover in there, whereas communal stairs very little on the basis that the risks of fires being in these communal fire-escape areas is very low anyway.
You may also be able to modify over time and plan accordingly, for example progressively installing new ones over time as a new building becomes more occupied, and ensuring they are removed from vacant areas rather than leaving and people mistakenly using what can be soon out-of-date ones.
Plus, don’t forget any more temporary arrangements, for example contractors needing to bring in their own portable ones for risky-works as prescribed in any Permit to Work.
3. Different Types
As you then start looking into what type and sizes of fire extinguishers you need, it can become confusing. You can even include ancillary things like fire blankets instead in areas like kitchens.
To decide this, you often have to go back to basics as to what three main ingredients need to exist in order to cause and therefore stop a fire.
Firstly, there is a heat source, and therefore some form of cooling-down being required.
Secondly, there is oxygen, and so some kind of smothering over of the fire will remove access to air-flow increasing the fire.
And thirdly, a form of fuel to burn, and so a removal and starving of this fuel source ideally even before the fire is allowed to begin such as combustible materials in the way being removed.
You then have standard classes of fire and what types of fire extinguishers are required:
Class A – Solid
Class B - Liquid
Class C – Gas
Class D – Metals
Class E – Electrical
Class F – Cooking Oils
AFFF (foam spray) extinguisher
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
To get this right, you need a good contractor or risk assessor who knows their stuff and can drill down to the detail. To look at the circumstances of each building and situation and decide as to what type of fire extinguisher is best where, which may well mean two or more in the same place that can serve different situations.
Whatever you end up with, it’s essential to have a formal log of all these and what and where they are. This can be reviewed and updated over time.
4. Maintenance & Service
Looking after fire extinguishers of course requires the expertise of a contractor, therefore the correct and competent being instructed. Sometime this is the same as for other fire-systems like the fire alarm, other times it is someone else.
There are then two forms of service and maintenance to organise, however they may still need to come out and deal with any reactive-issues of damaged ones or those accidently triggered and needing replacement.
Firstly, a basic service every twelve months or however often is otherwise deemed necessary. This covers basic checks and ensures they are still operating okay.
Secondly, a discharge tests every 5 years or so, where they are actually fully-checked by using them and then re-filling (CO2 ones every ten years). In reality some contractors find it more cost-effective to simply replace with new ones rather than fath-around with these older ones.
And of course, the golden rule is to always then have the paperwork to back this up – the annual Certificate, the main Discharge Test details, and records of reactive call outs and problem-solving.
5. Visual Checks
This is an easy-peasy one really, for someone to have a quick visual check of the fire extinguishers every month or so depending upon the risk and issues involved.
This can be the property manager, contractor, or site representative and form part of usual building checks.
The idea is not to get technical but spot any obvious issues that effects how they should operate, a classic one being left off the wall-hook or floor-stand where they should be and being used to prop doors open.
Others include signs boing missing, or the plastic ties around the nozzles being broken or missing.
Whoever does this, a simple tick-box somewhere should suffice to document this and additional comments where there are issues.
6. Signs & Documentation
Once you have the correct fire extinguishers in place, it’s essential to get this clearly communicated to everyone in order to ensure they know where they are and when and how to use them.
This may sound obvious, but easily missed by a property manager to ensure everything links together.
The correct signs need to be both near and maybe on the fire extinguishers stating what type they are and how they should technically be used. Ensure these are updated when any extinguishers are as well.
Also, correct reference in general fire procedures and documentation such as the Fire Risk Assessment, Fire Evacuation Procedure, Fire Marshall Procedure and even logs like the Fire Drill.
These should be clear on when they should not be used just as much as when they are, for example not by untrained persons and where the focus is simply to leave the property and not fight a fire.
Similar to signs and documentation, this is a straight forward point that can often be missed in the flurry of activity of fire-extinguisher maintenance.
Those who should know how to use these should be shown how to – that simple.
This may be a formal training course or online training, and can form part of other related training such as Fire Marshall duties.
This will hopefully filter-down to concise and helpful summaries in order to remember what to do in reality, a common example being the ‘PASS’ process of how-to-use them:
P – Pull out the pin at the top of the fire extinguisher
A – Aim the hose at the base of the flames (and being careful what parts you correctly hold)
S – Squeeze the handle to operate
S – Sweep the nozzle across the flames to put the fire out
In addition to the theory, ensure this not only relates to the actual extinguishers on site, but maybe actually using them as a test exercise outside the building or in a training centre.
Extinguishing the Fire of Property Management Problems
As you endeavour to get to grips with how fire extinguishers are correctly installed at a property, then these seven steps are your starting point.
You can them map-out a plan of action – what contractors needs instructing, who needs to be informed and trained, and a regime of maintenance and checks.
And don’t forget to tie this in with all other fire-fighting measures and actions from a good Fire Risk Assessment.
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