Fire extinguishers are the first line of defense against small fires that can quickly escalate into large and dangerous ones. They can save lives, property, and the environment by preventing fire from spreading and causing more damage. However, fire extinguishers are not just a good idea, they are also a legal requirement in many situations. In this article, we will explain the legal requirements for fire extinguishers in different settings, such as workplaces, homes, and vehicles. We will also provide some tips on how to choose, use, and maintain fire extinguishers properly.
- Fire extinguishers are required by law in most workplaces, public buildings, and multi-family dwellings.
- Fire extinguishers must be suitable for the type of fire risk, accessible, visible, and properly maintained.
- Fire extinguishers are classified by letters and numbers that indicate their effectiveness against different classes of fire.
- Fire extinguishers should be used only by trained personnel and only when the fire is small, confined, and not threatening to life or health.
- Fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly and serviced annually by a qualified professional.
Legal Requirements for Fire Extinguishers in Workplaces
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers are responsible for providing portable fire extinguishers and ensuring that they are readily accessible to employees without subjecting them to possible injury. OSHA also specifies the minimum number and type of fire extinguishers required for different workplaces based on the level of fire hazard and the size of the area to be protected¹.
The following table summarizes the OSHA requirements for fire extinguishers in workplaces:
|Level of Hazard||Maximum Travel Distance to Extinguisher||Minimum Rating per Unit of A||Maximum Floor Area per Unit of A||Minimum Number of Units|
|Light (such as offices, classrooms, assembly halls)||75 feet||1-A||3,000 square feet||1|
|Ordinary (such as mercantile, industrial, storage)||75 feet||2-A||1,500 square feet||1|
|Extra (such as woodworking, flammable liquids, vehicle repair)||50 feet||4-A||750 square feet||1|
Note: A is the numerical rating that indicates the amount of water an extinguisher can hold and the amount of fire it can extinguish. For example, a 2-A extinguisher can hold 2.5 gallons of water and can extinguish a fire twice as large as a 1-A extinguisher.
In addition to the general requirements, OSHA also has specific requirements for certain types of workplaces, such as:
- Construction sites: A fire extinguisher rated not less than 2-A must be provided for every 3,000 square feet of the protected building area or a major fraction thereof. Travel distance from any point of the protected area to the nearest fire extinguisher must not exceed 100 feet.
- Commercial kitchens: A Class K fire extinguisher must be provided within 30 feet of each cooking appliance that uses combustible cooking media (such as vegetable or animal oils and fats).
- Laboratories: A Class D fire extinguisher must be provided within 75 feet of any area where combustible metals (such as magnesium, titanium, and zirconium) are used or stored.
OSHA also requires employers to train employees on how to use fire extinguishers and to conduct monthly inspections and annual maintenance of fire extinguishers.
Legal Requirements for Fire Extinguishers in Homes
Unlike workplaces, there is no federal law that requires fire extinguishers in homes. However, some states and local jurisdictions may have their own regulations that mandate fire extinguishers in certain residential settings. For example:
- California: Fire extinguishers are required in all multi-family dwellings (such as apartments, condominiums, and townhouses) with three or more units. The minimum rating is 2-A:10-B:C and the maximum travel distance is 75 feet.
- New York: Fire extinguishers are required in all one- and two-family dwellings that have a fuel-burning appliance (such as a furnace, boiler, or water heater) or an attached garage. The minimum rating is 2-A:10-B:C and the maximum travel distance is 40 feet.
- Texas: Fire extinguishers are required in all single-family dwellings that have a liquefied petroleum gas system (such as propane or butane) or a compressed natural gas system. The minimum rating is 2-A:10-B:C and the maximum travel distance is 10 feet.
To find out the specific requirements for fire extinguishers in your home, you should check with your state and local fire authorities. Even if fire extinguishers are not legally required in your home, it is still a good idea to have them for fire safety. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends that every home should have at least one fire extinguisher on each level and in areas where fires are more likely to occur, such as the kitchen, garage, and laundry room.
Legal Requirements for Fire Extinguishers in Vehicles
Similar to homes, there is no federal law that requires fire extinguishers in vehicles. However, some states and local jurisdictions may have their own regulations that mandate fire extinguishers in certain types of vehicles. For example:
- California: Fire extinguishers are required in all buses, trucks, and truck tractors that have a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds. The minimum rating is 2-B:C and the minimum capacity is 1.5 pounds.
- New York: Fire extinguishers are required in all school buses, ambulances, taxis, limousines, and vehicles that transport hazardous materials. The minimum rating is 2-A:10-B:C and the minimum capacity is 2.5 pounds.
- Texas: Fire extinguishers are required in all vehicles that transport flammable liquids or gases in bulk. The minimum rating is 10-B:C and the minimum capacity is 5 pounds.
To find out the specific requirements for fire extinguishers in your vehicle, you should check with your state and local transportation authorities. Even if fire extinguishers are not legally required in your vehicle, it is still a good idea to have them for fire safety. The NFPA recommends that every vehicle should have a fire extinguisher rated for Class B and Class C fires.
How to Choose, Use, and Maintain Fire Extinguishers
Choosing the right fire extinguisher for your needs is important because not all fire extinguishers are effective against all types of fires. Fire extinguishers are classified by letters and numbers that indicate their effectiveness against different classes of fire:
- Class A: Fires involving ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber, and plastic.
- Class B: Fires involving flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, paint, and grease.
- Class C: Fires involving energized electrical equipment such as wiring, appliances, computers, and power tools.
- Class D: Fires involving combustible metals such as magnesium, titanium, zirconium, and sodium.
- Class K: Fires involving cooking media such as vegetable or animal oils and fats.
The following table shows the common types of fire extinguishers and their suitability for different classes of fire:
|Type of Extinguisher||Suitable for Class A||Suitable for Class B||Suitable for Class C||Suitable for Class D||Suitable for Class K|
|Carbon Dioxide (CO2)||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Dry Chemical (ABC)||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Dry Chemical (BC)||No||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Dry Powder (D)||No||No||No||Yes||No|
|Wet Chemical (K)||No||No||No||No||Yes|
Note: Some fire extinguishers may have more than one letter to indicate their suitability for multiple classes of fire. For example, an ABC fire extinguisher can be used for Class A, B, and C fires.
Using a fire extinguisher properly can make the difference between controlling a small fire and allowing it to grow into a large one. However, fire extinguishers should only be used by trained personnel and only when the following conditions are met:
- The fire is small, confined, and not spreading rapidly.
- The fire is not producing toxic smoke or fumes that can endanger your health.
- The fire is not blocking your escape route or creating a hazard for others.
- You have alerted others of the fire and called the fire department.
- You have a clear view of the fire and a safe distance from it.
- You have the right type of fire extinguisher for the class of fire.
To use a fire extinguisher effectively, you should follow the PASS technique:
- Pull the pin to unlock the lever or button.
- Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the lever or button to discharge the extinguishing agent.
- Sweep the nozzle or hose from side to side until the fire is out.
Maintaining a fire extinguisher in good working
condition is essential for fire safety and compliance with the law. Fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly and serviced annually by a qualified professional. During the inspection, you should check the following aspects of the fire extinguisher:
- The pressure gauge is in the green zone, indicating that the extinguisher is fully charged.
- The nozzle or hose is not clogged, cracked, or damaged.
- The pin and seal are intact and not tampered with.
- The handle and lever are not broken or loose.
- The label and instructions are legible and visible.
- The extinguisher is free of corrosion, dents, leaks, or other signs of wear and tear.
During the service, the fire extinguisher should be tested, recharged, repaired, or replaced as needed by a certified technician. The service date and results should be recorded on a tag attached to the extinguisher.
Fire extinguishers are vital tools for fire prevention and protection, but they also come with legal responsibilities and requirements. Depending on the setting, you may need to have fire extinguishers that meet certain standards and specifications. You also need to know how to choose, use, and maintain fire extinguishers properly to ensure their effectiveness and safety. By following the guidelines and regulations for fire extinguishers, you can reduce the risk of fire hazards and comply with the law.