Frequently Asked Questions

Below is a collection of frequently asked questions about fire extinguishers and servicing

My extinguisher pressure gauge is showing too high a pressure. Is this a problem?

If the needle is still within the green section of the gauge it is ok. If however it has crept in to the red then the extinguisher needs attention immediately.

My pull pin is bent? Do I have to replace the pin and how?

Yes the pin would need replacing as it could jam in an emergency. It can be replaced by breaking the tamper seal, removing the old pin, inserting a new pin and replacing the tamper seal. This should be performed by a competent person.

What do the colours of the extinguisher tags mean?

The tags (tamper seals) are replaced on an annual basis. There is no requirement for certain colours to be used but most engineers with swap to a different colour each year to make it easier to tell which units have been serviced and which are yet to be serviced.

On some foam extinguishers it states that they are safe for use on electrical fires. On others it says they aren't. Which statement is right?

Both statements are correct. Some foam extinguishers have been dielectrically tested to ensure that, when used in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions, it can be accidentally sprayed on to live electricity without harming the user. It is advisable to ensure that the electricity is switched off before tackling an electrical fire.

Should I use BAFE certified engineers and why?

BAFE certified engineers have not only had the correct training and passed the examination to become a service technician; they have also been separately tested by a BAFE assessor to ensure their competency and knowledge. This ensures that the work carried out by the engineer will be of the highest quality and fully compliant with the relevant British Standards.

Some extinguishers are kitemarked, others just CE marked. What is the difference?

All extinguishers manufactured after 2000 have to be CE marked if they are to be sold in UK (this excludes refurbished units). The kitemark indicates that the extinguisher has also been tested by the British Standards Institute (BSi).

Do I have to have extinguisher signs above the units?

The label on the front of a fire extinguisher contains all the information needed for the operation and maintenance of the extinguisher so acts as its own sign. That being said, the latest revision of BS 5306:8 recommends that signs be used so that it is easier to recognise when and what type of extinguisher is missing from any location.

Should extinguisher signs be photoluminescent?

There is no requirement for photoluminescent signs but they help the user in locating fire extinguishers during a power failure or when there is smoke in the air obscuring vision.

Are CO2 fire extinguishers suitable for liquid fires outdoors?

CO2 works by starving a fire of oxygen so is less efficient when used outdoors due to it dispersing quickly.

Can I use CO2 fire extinguishers on computers?

Yes, CO2 is ideal for use on computers and other electrica/electronic items as it leaves no residue.

Is CO2 safe for use in computer rooms?

Yes, as long as the user doesn't expose themselves to the CO2 for too long as it is an asphyxiant and could cause suffocation.

What are the best home extinguishers?

Foam extinguishers, if dielectrically tested, are ideal for the home. Covering Class A (solids such as wood, paper, etc.) and Class B (burning liquids and liquefiable solids) these extinguishers are also safe for use around live electricity (from 1m distance). If you own a deep fat fryer then an ABF foam or ABF wet chemical extinguisher would be preferable.

I need an extinguisher for a boat. What should I use?

A powder fire extinguisher would provide the greatest coverage but the use of powder in a confined cabin could obscure vision and cause breathing difficulties, so a foam fire extinguisher would be the safer option.

What are MED extinguishers?

The Marine Equipment Directive (MED) ensures that any equipment bearing the MED shipwheel which meets the requirements of international conventions also meets a standard of safety and performance.

What is the difference between cartridge and stored pressure extinguishers?

A stored pressure fire extinguisher contains the extinguishant (powder, foam, water, etc.) and propellant (CO2 or more commonly nitrogen). If the cylinder is pierced it could explosively release its pressure.

A cartridge operated fire extinguisher contains the extinguishant in the same way as a stored pressure extinguisher but has its propellant stored in an additional pressure vessel (cartridge) within the cylinder. Cartridge operated extinguishers are more common in harsher environments where the extinguisher could be struck or pierced as they are unlikely to cause injury when damaged.

Where do I use cartridge extinguishers?

Cartridge operated extinguishers can be used anywhere but are particularly good for use in harsh environments or areas where they will be used regularly and they can be refilled quickly in the field.

How high should I hang CO2 extinguishers?

The handle of any portable fire extinguisher with a gross mass of over 4kg should be placed at a height of 1m from the floor if wall mounted.

Can I refill a fire extinguisher myself?

A competent person can refill an extinguisher after discharge but unless they are qualified to do so the extinguisher would no longer be compliant with the British Standard.

Can I buy pre-serviced fire extinguishers?

No, the British Standard requires that extinguishers be commissioned and/or serviced on site. This is to ensure that the extinguisher is not damaged in transit after commissioning/servicing.

How often do fire extinguishers have to be refilled?

An extinguisher should be refilled after use but in general a fire extinguisher should be discharged, tested and then recharged every 5 years (10 for CO2).

We have a school, can we just not install extinguishers as they are often tampered with?

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 states that the responsible person must

  1. Take such general fire precautions as will ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the safety of any of his employees
  2. In relation to relevant persons who are not his employees, take such general fire precautions as may reasonably be required in the circumstances of the case to ensure that the premises are safe.

Not adhering to this Order is a criminal offence.

We have a housing association. Can we get rid of extinguishers, as we heard of cases where the fire risk assessors recommended removal?

We would not recommend the arbitrary removal of firefighting equipment. The provisions of such equipment should be determined by a fire risk assessment and in most cases fire extinguishers will be required. A government guide recently stated: "It is rare for there to be a need for fire-fighting equipment to be used by people present in the common parts of blocks of flats. It is, nevertheless, usually provided in plant rooms and other such rooms, for use by the staff and contractors." But they do not recommend simply removing existing extinguishers. A fire risk assessment must be carried out to determine if they are required or not.

Can I send fire extinguishers with airmail?

Fire extinguishers are classed as dangerous goods and can be sent via air, road or sea freight if the company shipping them has had the correct training to do so.

How much pressure is in CO2 and other extinguishers?

CO2 is stored at 55 bar in a fire extinguisher while the pressure in stored pressure fire extinguishers are around 12 bar (the exact figure is printed on the side of each extinguisher and varies depending on the size and contents).

Should small extinguishers (1 and 2kg) be refilled?

If required, small 1kg/ltr and 2kg/ltr extinguishers can be refilled after use but due to the costs involved it is usually more cost effective to replace them with new units after discharge.

How do I clean up after a foam extinguisher has been discharged?

  1. Wear the protective equipment (Impermeable Gloves, goggles. The chemicals in foam fire extinguishers can be carcinogenic)
  2. Soak up the foam or liquid from the wet chemical or water extinguisher with either paper towels or old towels that can be thrown away
  3. Wash the area thoroughly with water and use paper towels or an old towel to soak up any excess
  4. Place all towels into a plastic bag and seal before throwing it away into the usual waste bin

Can CO2 fire extinguishers be used on deep fat fryers?

No, the strong jet from a CO2 can carry the burning fat into the room and make the situation worse. Also, while CO2 extinguishers are rated for flammable liquids, deep fat fryers have their own class (F) because the burning fat is so hot that conventional class B extinguishers cannot cool them down to below the auto-ignition temperature.

Can I use water or powder on fat fires?

Water cannot be used on fat fires but powder with its class A, B and C rating can be used to extinguish fat fires (class B).

How do dry water mist extinguishers work?

Water Mist extinguishers work by removing 2 of the 3 fire triangle elements (heat, fuel and oxygen). Heat is removed via the mist droplets and the oxygen particles via the steam.

The fire is extinguished. Steam (inert) formed by the mist during extinguishing continues to evaporate, dissipating the heat and oxygen from the fire source, cooling the material to prevent re-ignition.

Can dry water mist be used on fat fires?

Yes, Water Mist extinguishers are the 'all-in-one' extinguisher suitable for all classes of fire (excluding class D flammable metals)

Can I use a fire extinguisher turned the wrong way round?

No. Extinguishers have a space in the top of the cylinder which stores the propellant and a 'dip tube' which extends to the bottom of the extinguisher. When the extinguisher is activated, the propellant pushing down on the contents forces the extinguishant up the dip tube and out of the hose. If the extinguisher is inverted (turned upside down) then the propellant would escape down the dip tube instead of forcing the extinguishant out.

Which extinguisher should I carry in my car?

It is still recommended that powder extinguishers are installed in vehicles as they give the greatest coverage and are unlikely to be used inside the vehicle.

What extinguisher should be supplied in a van?

It is still recommended that powder extinguishers are installed in vehicles as they give the greatest coverage and are unlikely to be used inside the vehicle.

Can I use powder fire extinguishers near animals?

Using a powder fire extinguisher near an animal, either indoors or outdoors, can cause respiratory problems for the animal so it is not recommended to do so.

My extinguisher is dinted. What do I do?

It would be advisable to have the extinguisher examined by an engineer to determine whether the extinguisher is still safe to use or requires replacement.

I have lost my extinguisher tag. What shall I do?

It would be advisable to have the extinguisher examined by an engineer to ensure that the tag was simply broken accidentally as opposed to vandalism. An extinguisher that has been tampered with could malfunction in an emergency and pose a risk to health.

My extinguisher handle is bent. Do I need to replace the extinguisher?

It would be advisable to have the extinguisher examined by an engineer who can, if needed, replace the handle. A bent handle may not look too bad but could hamper the function of the extinguisher.

There is rust on my extinguisher. Does it need replacing?

It would be advisable to have the extinguisher examined by an engineer. Over the lifetime of an extinguisher there may appear small signs of corrosion which are in non-critical places on the handle etc. but an engineer should examine the extinguisher to determine whether or not the corrosion is acceptable or not.

Can I put fire extinguishers on the floor?

Fire extinguishers can be placed on the floor if they are on a stand. The stand protects the base of the extinguisher from condensation from a cold floor which can eventually cause corrosion.

I need a fire extinguisher in a corrosive environment. Which extinguisher can I use?

The P50 service-free fire extinguishers are made from tough and hard wearing plastics which are suitable for even the harshest environments.

I get charged for tags and o-rings by my service company. Is this correct?

The tags and o-rings must be changed on a fire extinguisher during every service. Some companies add these items to the final bill so that they can give a low initial servicing charge and seem better value for money upon first glance. An ethical company will give a slightly higher per extinguisher charge but all components will be covered and no hidden extras will be added to your bill.