Fire extinguishers can be an essential piece of fire safety equipment. They are, however, only first aid: the first line of defence if a small fire breaks out in a block of flats. They are no substitute for raising the alarm, calling the fire brigade and following the fire procedure for your building. Nor are they for use inside flats. Leaseholders should never be tempted to collect an extinguisher from a corridor and then go back inside a flat where a fire has already started.
That said, dealing with a small fire quickly could save a lot of time and trouble, so if your fire risk assessment or insurer requires that you have them in common areas, be sure that they are in good working order and safely stowed in the right trays or wall brackets. After all, we’ve probably all witnessed the cardinal sin of using a fire extinguisher to prop a fire door open somewhere!
Do you need fire extinguishers?
The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005 made it a legal duty of the Residents Management Company (RMC) or managing agent to ensure the safety of flat owners, employees and visitors.
This involves commissioning a detailed risk assessment, and that in turn may require supplying and maintaining the correct fire extinguishers. You place a lot of faith in a fire risk assessor, so be sure that they are competent, not least because you, as the designated responsible person for the block, share liability if they are not. In 2011 an assessor and the building manager were jailed for failing to protect occupants after the Fire Brigade visited to check on them.
In addition, we have seen reports of cases where extinguishers have been required by insurers.
As the Local Government Association points out in its guidance on fire safety in purpose built blocks, it is rare for there to be a need for fire-fighting equipment to be used by people present in the common parts of blocks of flats.
However, where fire extinguishers are to be placed within plant rooms, common areas or staff areas of a block of flats, they should comply with British Standards. The current code of practice is BS 5306-8:2012 Fire extinguishing installations and equipment on premises. Selection and positioning of portable fire extinguishers.
Fire extinguishers should last for between 5-15 years before they need replacing but they do require proper servicing and maintenance on delivery and annually, and regular monthly inspections.
If you are looking for a supplier or someone to check and maintain fire extinguishers, a good starting point is BAFE, the British Approvals for Fire Equipment. BAFE is an independent registration body for third party certified fire protection companies across the UK and it maintains an online register of quality fire safety service providers.
There are several types of fire extinguisher, and the choice depends on the type of fire they are likely to fight. Your fire risk assessor and supplier should be able to advise on the correct choice and you can also find further in-depth guidance HERE.
Broadly speaking you are most likely to use:
- WATER: for freely burning carbonaceous materials such as wood, paper and fabrics.
- FOAM: for freely burning carbonaceous materials such as wood, paper and fabrics or on flammable liquid fires, such as oil, petrol and diesel
- CARBON DIOXIDE: primarily for electrical fires
- DRY POWDER extinguishers are multi-purpose but are not usually recommended for use indoors.
Of course, individual lessees may install extinguishers and fire blankets in their own flats and, of course, prevention is better than cure. And last but not least, do keep common areas free of rubbish and clutter.
The opinions and views expressed in the above articles are those of the author only and are for guidance purposes only. The authors disclaim any liability for reliance upon those opinions and would encourage readers to rely upon more than one source before making a decision based on the information.