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The Ultimate Guide to Fire Extinguishers for Business

Preparation is vital if an unexpected fire breaks out in your business. That means maintaining a fire safety plan and up-to-date fire protection equipment, including sprinkler systems, smoke detectors, and fire extinguishers for your business.

Last year, local fire departments responded to nearly 1.4 million fires in the United States, totaling around $21.9 billion in damages. Inspecting your fire extinguisher helps prevent an unexpected blaze from hurting employees and damaging your building.

At Allegiant Fire Protection, we care about your safety. That includes providing you and your business with all the information you need to buy, maintain, and use a fire extinguisher.

Choosing a Fire Extinguisher For Your Business

Water or foam? Powder or CO₂? Buying a fire extinguisher for your business isn’t as simple as just picking one off the shelf.

Depending on the type of fire hazard, certain kinds of extinguishers are specified to work best.

Understanding Fire Classifications

There are four elements a fire needs to take shape. This is called the fire tetrahedron.

  • Oxygen
  • Heat
  • Fuel
  • Chemical reaction

Take any of those four elements away, and there is no fire. Fire extinguishers eliminate one of those elements, thus eliminating the fire.

To prevent using the wrong fire extinguisher, there are five classifications of fire based on fuel type.

Class A, B, C, D, and K are the five classifications.

  • Class A fires are “ordinary combustible materials, such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics.” These are common accidental fires.
  • Class B fires are “flammable liquids, combustible liquids, petroleum greases, tars, oils, oil-based paints, solvents, lacquers, alcohols, and flammable gasses.” 
  • Class C fires “involve energized electrical equipment.”
  • Class D fires are in “combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, zirconium, sodium, lithium, and potassium.”
  • Class K fires are in “cooking appliances that involve combustible cooking media (vegetable or animal oils and fats).”

Knowing the most likely fuel sources around your property is critical to choosing the correct extinguisher.

What Are the Types of Fire Extinguishers?

Based on the classification, there are several fire extinguisher types, including water, CO₂, ABC powder, dry chemical, and wet chemical.

Water Extinguishers

You’ll want a water fire extinguisher for Class A fires (wood, cloth, paper, etc.). There are a couple of different types of water extinguishers. Still, one thing to be aware of is that these aren’t optimal for freezing conditions.

If your building tends to get below freezing, look for a water fire extinguisher that includes antifreeze.

CO₂ Extinguishers

Designed for Class B and Class C fires only, CO₂ fire extinguishers blast a cold gas burst, thus removing the oxygen from the fire. You shouldn’t purchase a CO₂ extinguisher if you are likely dealing with Class A fires, as the extinguisher might not remove enough oxygen to put out the blaze.

Another advantage of the CO₂ extinguisher is no residue leftover, making it perfect for “delicate and costly electronic equipment…[and] food preparation areas, laboratories, and printing or duplicating areas.”

ABC Powder Extinguishers

ABC powder fire extinguishers work best on Class A, Class B, and Class C fires. Avoid using one of these extinguishers if you work in an office or small building, as inhalation of the powder can be dangerous.

They are versatile and the most common type of extinguisher as they work in various hazardous situations.

Class D Extinguishers

These are the only extinguishers rated for combustible metals. Usually filled with Sodium Chloride powder, this extinguisher works because the “heat of the fire causes the dry powder to cake and form an exterior crust. This crust excludes air and results in extinguishment.”

A warning, though, a Class D powder fire extinguisher is dangerous to use on a Class A, Class B, or Class C fire.

Wet Chemical (Class K) Extinguishers

With a Class K classification, wet chemical extinguishers are for “use on fires involving combustible cooking media such as burning oil and fat.” This makes them perfect for commercial kitchens.

Depending on the type of business space you are in, a catch-all class ABC combination fire extinguisher may work best for you. But before you purchase, consider what potential fire hazards might lurk around.

How Many Fire Extinguishers Should I Have for My Business?

The definitive answer for how many extinguishers you need in your building depends entirely on the type of office space you are in.

The regulation for the number of fire extinguishers in the building, according to OSHA, is as follows: 

“A fire extinguisher, rated not less than 2A, shall be provided for each 3,000 square feet of the protected building area, or a major fraction thereof. Travel distance from any point of the protected area to the nearest fire extinguisher shall not exceed 100 feet.”

You also need at least one fire extinguisher on every floor.

To avoid doing the math, call Allegiant Fire Protection, who guarantees enough fire extinguishers to code and help assess your fire sprinkler and alarm coverage.

Are there any Commercial Fire Extinguisher Requirements?

OSHA lists the following commercial fire extinguisher requirements for most businesses:

An employer must:

  • “Provide portable fire extinguishers and mount, locate, and identify them so that they are readily accessible to employees without subjecting them to possible injury.
  • Use only approved portable fire extinguishers.
  • Do not use portable fire extinguishers that use carbon tetrachloride or chlorobromomethane extinguishing agents. 
  • Assure that portable fire extinguishers are maintained, fully charged, operating properly, and kept in designated places at all times except during use.
  • Remove from service all soldered or riveted shell self-generating soda acid or self-generating foam or gas cartridge water type portable fire extinguishers that are operated by inverting the extinguisher to rupture the cartridge or to initiate an uncontrollable pressure generating chemical reaction to expel the agent.”

Note: Different AHJs have different sets of regulations for commercial fire extinguishers. If you are unsure, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Allegiant Fire Protection for an annual inspection to avoid any fines and stay up to code.

Where Should You Place Your Fire Extinguishers?

Now that you have your fire extinguishers, the next step is identifying the best places to put them. The NFPA developed different fire extinguisher placement regulations depending on the type of fire extinguisher.

Some buildings and hazards have more strict travel distance requirements, but the travel distance for Class A fire and Class D extinguishers cannot exceed 75 feet. In contrast, the travel distance for Class B and Class K fire extinguishers is between 30-50 feet depending on the type of hazard and extinguisher rating.

You will want every fire extinguisher visible along normal pathways and readily accessible.

If you currently work in a multistory building, “at least one fire extinguisher shall be located adjacent to the stairway.”

How Do You Use a Fire Extinguisher? Remember to P.A.S.S.

A fire extinguisher for your business is useless if your employees are not trained to use one. It is the employer’s responsibility to educate employees on the proper use of fire extinguishers.

Investing in professional fire protection safety training is always a good decision.

OSHA provides the following steps on how to use a fire extinguisher:

“Most fire extinguishers operate using the following P.A.S.S. technique:

  • PULL… Pull the pin. This will also break the tamper seal.
  • AIM… Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle (or its horn or hose) at the base of the fire.
  • SQUEEZE… Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
  • SWEEP… Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out. Watch the area. If the fire re-ignites, repeat steps 2 – 4.”

Of course, if the fire is too big, immediately move towards a safe evacuation and call 911.

How Do You Clean Up Fire Extinguisher Residue?

In the unfortunate event of using a fire extinguisher, the residue left behind leaves quite a mess. Depending on the type of fire extinguisher used (dry or wet), cleaning up any leftover residue is important as it affects the air quality around you.

Cleaning Up Dry Chemical Fire Extinguisher Residue

Because of the ingredients used in dry chemical fire extinguishers, you’ll need to clean up any leftover residue, as they might be corrosive to your building’s materials.

1. Open the Windows

Ensure proper ventilation throughout your building by opening the windows. Any chemical dust in your nose and lungs can harm your long-term health.

2. Vacuum Leftover Debris

Use a shop vacuum to clean up any leftover debris or remaining residue. While you can use a broom, we recommend a vacuum cleaner because it spreads less dust.

3. Use Solution to Wipe Up Residue

Create a solution that is isopropyl alcohol diluted 50% with warm water. Allow the solution to sit for a few minutes before wiping it up. If leftover residue remains, use a mild detergent and water solution to clean surfaces.

Cleaning Up Wet Chemical Fire Extinguisher Residue

Extra precautions are necessary as wet chemical fire extinguisher residue may be carcinogenic to anyone exposed.

1. Wear Proper Safety Equipment

Whenever cleaning up wet chemical fire extinguisher residue, wear gloves, goggles, and a face mask to avoid any corrosive or chemical-related injuries.

2. Clean Up Wet Residue

Use paper towels or any other type of towel that can be thrown away quickly to clean up the wet residue. You don’t want to keep items with excess foam or liquid chemicals.

3. Wash the Area

Wash every area where chemical residue was located using water and additional paper towels. If any fabrics such as curtains, tablecloths, or carpets were affected by the residue, wash those as well.

Trust Allegiant Fire Protection with Fire Extinguishers

To help make sure you are fully protected, we created a handy fire extinguisher reference poster to print and hang up around the office. Download the poster here.

Purchasing fire extinguishers isn’t all you need for fire protection safety. Allegiant Fire Protection offers complete fire equipment testing, inspection, and repair services.

That includes sprinkler and alarm inspections and annual tests and assessments on your fire extinguishers. We also can train your employees in proper fire extinguisher usage.

Contact us at Allegiant Fire Protection for all your fire protection needs.

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