Center for Improvement in Healthcare Quality Newsletter
October 2021


Fire Extinguishers

By: William Kinch
A nurse is working on the Medical/Surgical unit, and she suddenly smells smoke. She looks down the corridor and discovers smoke coming from the soiled utility room where trash is being stored. She approaches the room and touches the door to feel for heat. Since it is not hot, she decides to open the door and discovers a small fire has started in a trash can located in the room. She goes to the nearest fire extinguisher, grabs it, and goes to the trash can where she safely extinguishes the fire. Fire extinguishers can come in handy when situations like the above arise in a hospital. It is important to understand what the requirements are when it comes to fire extinguishers to ensure they are where you need them when you must use one, and that it will function when you need it.
Determining what type of potential fire risks are in your area are an important first step in determining what type of fire extinguisher is needed in the space. Here is a list of the classes of fire:
  • Class A Fire – fires in ordinary combustible materials, such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics
  • Class B Fires – fires in flammable liquids, combustible liquids, petroleum greases, tars, oils, oil-based paints, solvents, lacquers, alcohols, and flammable gases
  • Class C Fires – fires that involve energized electrical equipment
  • Class D Fires – fires in combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, zirconium, sodium lithium, and potassium
  • Class K Fires – fires in cooking appliances that involve combustible cooking media (vegetable or animal oils and fats)
The type of extinguisher that is needed in a space has been determined and now you must install them. Keep the following in mind when installing your fire extinguishers:
  • Extinguishers shall be conspicuously located where they are readily accessible and immediately available in the event of a fire
  • Extinguishers shall be located along normal paths of travel, including exits from areas
Visual Obstructions:
  • Extinguishers shall not be obstructed or obscured from view
  • In large rooms and in certain locations where visual obstructions cannot be completely avoided, means shall be provided to indicate the extinguisher location
Portable fire extinguishers shall be installed in one of the following means:
  • Securely on a hanger intended for the extinguisher
  • In the bracket supplied by the extinguisher manufacturer
  • In a listed bracket approved for such purpose
  • In cabinets or wall recesses
Installation Height
  • Extinguishers having a gross weight not exceeding 40 lb. shall be installed so that the top of the fire extinguisher is not more than 5 ft above the floor
  • Extinguishers having a gross weight greater than 40 lb. shall be installed so that the top of the fire extinguisher is not more than 3 ½ ft above the floor
  • In no case shall the clearance between the bottom of the hand portable fire extinguisher and the floor be less than 4 in.
Travel Distance
  • Most hospitals will utilize a class ABC fire extinguisher. In these cases, the extinguishers must be positioned so that staff do not have to travel more than 75 ft to get to an extinguisher.
  • Kitchens will utilize Class K extinguishers. For these locations, the extinguishers must be positioned so that staff do not have to travel more than 30 ft to get to an extinguisher
When the fire extinguishers have been positioned in the appropriate locations, to ensure they work when you need them, they must be inspected and tested. The extinguishers must be inspected monthly to ensure the following:
  • Location is in the designated space
  • No obstruction to access or visibility
  • Pressure gauge reading or indicator in the operable range or position
  • Fullness determined by weighing or hefting for self-expelling-type extinguishers, cartridge-operated extinguishers, and pump tanks
Additionally, maintenance on the fire extinguishers must be performed on an annual basis. This is performed by a certified individual. Pressurized extinguishers must be emptied every 6 years and checked internally. These same extinguishers must then be hydrostatically checked every 12 years.
Make sure that staff are trained on how to properly use the extinguishers that you have put in place. Remember PASS when providing the training:
  • Pull the pin
  • Aim at the base of the fire
  • Squeeze the trigger
  • Sweep from side to side
Follow these procedures and you should have no worries when it comes to using a fire extinguisher when needed.
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