Section 5.0: Fire Extinguishers


Fire extinguishers are an important part of plant fire prevention programs in the protection of personnel and facilities. A portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property when used correctly.

Portable fire extinguishers are classified and labeled according to their ability to handle specific classes and sizes of fires.

Fire extinguishing equipment must be conspicuously located, properly maintained, and periodically inspected.

If personnel are expected to utilize the fire extinguishing equipment in the event of a fire, those personnel must be adequately trained in fire prevention suppression, know the location and handling of fire extinguishers and be able to demonstrate competency.


5.1. Portable fire extinguishers should be available for employee use.   The fire extinguishers are selected and distributed in accordance with the size and degree of hazard affecting their use and expected class of workplace fire.
5.2. A system of inspecting, maintaining, recharging, and testing of all portable fire extinguishers should be in place.  Portable extinguishers should be visually inspected each month and recorded on a tag attached to each extinguisher.   Annually, all portable fire extinguishers should be given a thorough and documented maintenance check.
5.3. Annual fire extinguisher training and education for employees who are expected to use fire extinguishers must be provided and documented.  Employees who operate fixed extinguishing systems must also be trained annually.
5.4. Portable fire extinguishers are to be located, mounted, and identified to be readily accessible and not subject employees to possible injury.

Standpipes and hose cabinets must also be readily identifiable and used only for fire equipment purposes.

Areas protected by fixed extinguishing systems that use extinguishing agents in concentrations known to be hazardous to worker safety and health, must be posted with appropriate hazard warning or caution signage at the hazard entrance exterior and interior of location.

5.5. In addition to being readily accessible and unobstructed, fire extinguishers must be located high enough above floor level to avoid obstruction.
5.6. Halon fire extinguishers will displace and dilute oxygen.
5.7. Fire extinguishers must be readily available for use.


Fire Extinguisher Types

Fire is a chemical reaction that requires heat, oxygen, and fuel. The chemical reaction cannot occur without all three parts present. Fire extinguishers are designed according to these principles.

Portable fire extinguishers are classified according to their ability to handle specific classes and sizes of fires. Labels on extinguishers indicate the class and relative size of fire that they can be expected to handle.

  • Class A extinguishers are suitable for use on fires in ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, rubber, and many plastics, where a quenching-cooling effect is required. The numeral indicates the relative fire extinguishing effectiveness of each unit. Extinguishers rated for Class A hazards are: water, foam, and multipurpose dry chemical types.
  • Class B extinguishers are suitable for use on fires in flammable liquids, gases, and greases, where an oxygen-exclusion or flame-interruption effect is essential. Extinguishers rated for Class B hazards are: foam, Halon and CO2 and multipurpose dry chemical.
  • Class C extinguishers are suitable for use on fires involving energized electrical equipment and wiring where the dielectric conductivity of the extinguishing agent is of importance. For example, water-solution extinguishers cannot be used on electrical fires because water conducts electricity and the operator could receive a shock from energized electrical equipment via the water.
  • Class D extinguishers are suitable for use on fires in combustible metals such as magnesium, titanium, zirconium, sodium, and potassium. No numeral is used for Class D extinguishers; the relative effectiveness of these extinguishers for use on specific combustible metal fires is detailed on the extinguisher nameplate.

Fire Extinguisher Location

  • Portable fire extinguishers must be distributed so the travel distance is not more than 75 feet for Class A and Class D hazard areas, and not more than 50 feet for Class B hazard areas.
  • Extinguishers must be located close to the likely hazards, but not so close that they would be damaged/isolated by the fire. If possible, they should be located along normal paths of egress from the building. Where highly combustible material is stored in small rooms or enclosed space, extinguishers should be located outside the door, never inside where they might become inaccessible.
  • Extinguishers must not be blocked or hidden by stock, finished material, or machines. They should be located or hung where they will not be damaged by trucks, cranes, and harmful operations, or corroded by chemical processes, and where they will not obstruct aisles or injure passers-by.
  • All extinguisher locations should be made conspicuous. For example, if an extinguisher is hung on a large column or post, a distinguishing red band can be painted around the post. Also, large signs can be posted directing attention to extinguishers. Extinguishers should be kept clean and should not be painted in any way that could camouflage them or obscure labels and markings.

Use of Fire Extinguisher

When a fire is discovered and it is still small, you may attempt to use an extinguisher (if trained):

  • First, activate fire alarms.
  • Attempt to extinguish or control the fire while always being assured that an escape route is available. The first and paramount objective is to prevent injury to personnel.
  • Stay low, out of heat and smoke.
  • Aim and discharge extinguisher at base of fire.

Back to Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Getting Started
Survey Checklists

Reference Guide

Appendix I
Sources of Information & Assistance

Appendix II

Appendix III
Review of Basic Fire Hazards

Appendix IV
Facility Survey

Appendix V
Selected NFPA Reference Codes

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