All businesses are required by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) guidelines to have fire safety protection. What kind of protection is required for your business or home? The NFPA 10, or Portable Fire Extinguisher Code manual states, “fire extinguishers shall be provided for the protection of both the building structure and the occupancy hazards contained therein regardless of the presence of any fixed fire suppression systems” (NFPA 10.5.4.2). This means that even if a building or business has fire sprinklers, or a fire alarm system, or a fire suppression system (or heck all three) they are still required to have portable fire extinguishers.
So, how many fire extinguishers do you need and what types? This is where the NFPA 10 goes into great detail about: the type of occupancy hazard, size of the building, spacing of the extinguishers and becomes difficult to interpret for those without certification. For simplicity – you need enough to extinguish any small fires that are likely to occur in your space. They should also be in a highly visible location that is easily accessible. The types vary by rating and at minimum you will need one 2A rated fire extinguisher. The ratings are marked on the label.
Water-Type Extinguisher Rating
Multi Purpose ABC Dry Chemical Rating
If you go to a “big box” store, you might find acceptable fire extinguishers. However, if you are using them for your business beware. Some are rated “recreational” and some are rated “kitchen.” Choose incorrectly, you will need to return them. Remember, you need at least a 2A rating. In addition, these places cannot certify your fire extinguisher(s). This is because they do not have a state licence in fire protection. This is not to say that the extinguishers they sell are not acceptable or are deficient – just that you might need additional knowledge and you will need additional services to comply with the NFPA 10 fire code.
What you won’t find are water type fire extinguishers. Do you need them? Maybe.
Water-type extinguishers use a water-based liquid and stored pressure to extinguisher fires. They are less common than dry powder, multi-use ABC extinguishers. This is because they serve a more specific purpose. If your business has a pool, pool room, has temperatures of below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, electrical or server room, antiquities, uses oxidizers (think bleach), or has a clean room, you need a water-type Fire extinguisher.
Water-type fire extinguishers can be used on Class A fires. These are fires with ordinary combustible materials, like wood, paper, or trash. Unlike ABC fire extinguishers, they cannot be used to extinguisher combustible or flammable liquids, such as oil or grease. When you add water to oil, you get an explosion! So why would you want one?
If you have a pool or use oxidising materials (bleach, chlorine, or hydrogen peroxide) you CANNOT use an ABC fire extinguisher. These common extinguishers use the safe compound of monoammonium phosphate. On a simpler level, a form of ammonia. When ammonia is mixed with or used near an oxidizer like chlorine it can create a toxic gas and/or an explosion. So, if you rent a property with a pool or own condominiums with a pool house – it is very important that you have a water-type extinguisher present. It is also important that you train your employees and use proper signage. This will help you avoid an unfortunate situation and possibly a lawsuit.
If you have an area that would be damaged by expelling powdered chemicals all over the place, you might need a water-type fire extinguisher. Electrical or server rooms seem like a counterproductive place to use water. However, modern technology includes a water-mist fire extinguisher. These well-designed extinguishers use a super fine mist to cool the air around the fire. They also use deionized (distilled) water instead of regular water. This type of water has had the electrical charge removed. So, not only will you not get shocked; you will not damage or destroy the room with powder or excess water when extinguishing a fire.
If you have a personal preference about your fire extinguishers, depending on the occupation hazard of your building you may be allowed to use a few water-type extinguishers instead of ABC extinguishers. The fire code allows for this by stating, “Up to two water-type extinguishers, each with 1-A rating, shall be permitted to be used to fulfil the requirements of one 2-A rated extinguisher” (NFPA 10.6.2.1.3.1). This means that while you could use an ABC extinguisher, if your building/business is a light-hazard occupancy and small in square footage, you can use water-type extinguishers.
Now you know a little more about Fire Code and about water-type fire extinguishers. If you’re not sure how to proceed, call your nearest licensed fire equipment dealer. If you’re located in Florida, you can call the experts at All Florida Fire for a free phone consultation. Or, if you’re in the greater Tampa Bay area, we would be happy to send a trained, certified technician to fulfil your fire safety needs.