The short reason behind needing fire extinguishers in a business is the National Fire Protection Association. The NFPA had its beginnings in the late 19th century. It initially began regulations to protect workers (NFPA, 2022). While a visit from today’s authority having jurisdiction (AJH), the fire marshal, can be inconvenient and services from fire safety equipment companies does cost money, the end result is safety for your business, income, and customers.
So, what is the law?
The NFPA 10 manual provides the standards enforced by the fire marshal.
Per NFPA 10.5.1, The selection of fire extinguishers for a given situation shall be determined by…:
- Type of fire most likely to occur
- Size of fire most likely to occur
- Hazards in the area where the fire is most likely to occur
- Energized electrical equipment in the vicinity of the fire
- Ambient temperature conditions
- Other factors
There are extensive lists of factors. For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume you own or operate the average small business. Your business is not cooking food, really hot, storing flammable materials, and has no energized electrical equipment. Although…see list of considerations if your business does not meet these requirements. They will require specialized fire extinguishers from authorized Fire Extinguisher Service Company.
Other Considerations Affecting Fire Extinguisher Requirements
Combustible metals: such as magnesium, titanium, etc…
Cooking appliances involving combustible cooking materials, such as oils or fats…
Storage of combustible liquids or packaging materials
Presence of oxidizers (such as chlorine in a pool)
So, how many fire extinguishers do I need?
It’s not that simple, but again we will pretend you are the average small business. Most small businesses are ordinary hazard occupancies. NFPA10.6.2.1.1 shows that these businesses will need at least one 2A rated fire extinguisher for buildings up to 11,250 square feet. In other words, you need at least one five-pound ABC extinguisher in a central location. If your business is larger, oddly shaped, or has obstacles on the floor you may need more. An ABC extinguisher is rated for three types of fires and is considered a multi-purpose, stored pressure extinguisher.
So, where does the fire extinguisher go?
Location, location, location. You don’t want to run into it, cover it up, or put it somewhere difficult to use. You’ll need to be able to access the extinguisher within 75 feet minus walking obstacles. Take your tape measure and see if there is an area of your business best suited for this. It should be free of obstacles, easy to see, below five feet tall, above 4 inches tall. It should also be on the wall. If you can’t meet these requirements, you can add a second extinguisher, signage, and/or a fire extinguisher cabinet. These items will help you meet the safety requirements.
Excellent, you are now knowledgeable about fire extinguisher requirements. So, we’re done, right? Sort of…but wait, there’s more. You haven’t technically met the fire safety requirements for portable fire extinguishers yet. You have two more steps. We’ll start with the easy and free step – monthly inspections.
So, how do I inspect my fire extinguishers?
Per NFPA10.7.2.2, once a month, you should (or you should train and designate an employee):
- Check that the location of the fire extinguisher is in its designated location.
- Ensure no obstruction to its access or visibility
- Ensure the pressure gauge indicator is in the operable range
- Lift it to check for fullness
- Check the conditions of the different parts for obstruction, wear, or debris
In addition, this almost forces you to read the instruction label. The instruction label should be facing outward and give visual directions on using the fire extinguisher. It also looks great to your insurance company if you have a small worksheet or card to document the inspection with the date and employee’s initials.
So, what’s my last step?
Call your locally licensed fire extinguisher dealer. Yes, you must. I’m sorry. It will cost money. But you are armed with knowledge about the situation. This will save you money. Researching local companies and pricing will also save you money. When you call for a free estimate, you should mention the amount of fire extinguishers you have, the size (see the manufacturer’s label), their last date of service (see the service label), and if you have a specific deadline to meet. Such as, the fire marshal will be inspecting again tomorrow or you need an insurance report by next Friday.
Certified fire extinguisher technicians will be able to answer your questions about service and educate on any additional questions you may have. A reputable company will contact you before charging you for additional services not mentioned in the estimate. I’d recommend scheduling them for a time you will be available in case you have questions about the service. All portable fire extinguishers must be inspected annually by a person certified in the maintenance and recharging of fire extinguishers (NFPA10.7.1.2.1.1).
Maybe don’t wait until the last minute. In today’s labor shortage, it’s better to schedule your service annually. You can also call as soon as you notice you need service. Especially if you used that life saving device. It will need a recharge!