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Avoiding fire fatalities


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Since their invention in 1734, fire extinguishers have always played a vital means of first-aid fire fighting. Used in countless settings, the fire extinguisher is one of the most basic safety products in the world. Understanding the specific type required and the importance of regular maintenance and training is, however, far less widespread. Injuries and fatalities can occur when extinguishers are not properly serviced.

Fire losses in the UK are currently estimated at £7billion a year but these official statistics only take account of those incidents reported to the fire service. Portable fire extinguishers are designed to prevent relatively minor incidents becoming serious fires where the fire service is required to attend.


To make a significant contribution in the prevention of serious fires in the workplace, staff need appropriate training and the correct type of fire extinguishers need to be installed which must be regularly serviced and correctly positioned within buildings.

Commenting, Steve Best of Newflame, Peterborough said: “Employers have a responsibility to protect their staff, visitors and premises from fire. By installing independently tested and CE Marked certified extinguishers, which are approved to the European Standard (BS EN3), and by providing regular training and maintenance, business owners go a long way to protecting their people and businesses.

Most workplaces will require the provision of a minimum of two Water-based extinguishers as primary protection from fire. Other risks, such as electrical equipment and flammable liquids, need to be separately assessed and the relevant extinguishers provided. In addition to water-based extinguishers, there are four other main types available. These include Foam, which is suitable for most fires involving flammable liquids, Dry Powder or Carbon Dioxide for fires involving both flammable liquids and electrical apparatus and finally Wet Chemical, specifically for use on fires in deep fat fryers.

There are, unfortunately, many examples of dangerous and even fatal incidents occurring as the result of fire extinguishers not being properly maintained. Employees should be asked to watch out for a range of warning signs. These include extinguishers showing rust and flaking paintwork, which indicates that the extinguisher has corroded, corrosion of welds and pressure retaining parts, pitting and dents to the body of the extinguisher or where there is fading of the black plastic head.

Fatality as result of poorly maintained equipment
Sadly a fatality occurred in 2001, whilst an employee was using a hand held fire extinguisher to put out a small fire, when it suddenly exploded resulting in the individual’s death due to flying debris. This was due to serious corrosion of the base of the extinguisher. In another incident in 2002, a man was blown 12 feet through the air by a fire extinguisher, which exploded in his hand.

Fire safety equipment, when properly installed and regularly serviced, is estimated to save the UK economy over £500million every year (based on values of the total fire insurance claims for commercial premises). A recent survey by two leading Fire Protection Trade Bodies highlighted that over a four month period, of 2000 fire incidents recorded, 80% of the fires were successfully put out by fire extinguishers. In 75% of instances the fire brigade was not required to attend.

In 2004 a fire extinguisher saved both the lives of two people trapped in a car, which was on fire, and the lives of their rescuers. A British Transport Police Inspector tackled the fire with a fire extinguisher, which allowed his colleague to break his way into the car, which was at real risk of exploding, to give first aid and reassure the occupants, until the Fire Brigade arrived and released the occupants without serious injury.

Steve Best of Newflame, Peterborough said: “As members of B.A.F.E, British Approvals for Fire Equipment, Newflame provides extinguishers to the European Standard (BS EN3) and installs and maintains to BS 5306. Our engineers are B.A.F.E Registered Technicians which means they are approved – a Government recognised scheme similar to gas industry’s CORGI registration.”

March 2006

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