Fire Extinguishers are the first line of defense for your property against fire. They are most effectively utilized when they are readily available in sufficient numbers and have adequate extinguishing capacity.  Most building fires occur around laundry rooms, elevator/electrical rooms, parking areas, and kitchens.  If a fire occurs, remember to evacuate the building, sound the fire alarm, call 911, and use the fire extinguisher nearby.

How Many Do You Need?

Many buildings lack good coverage of fire extinguishers.  The code requires that fire extinguishers be placed in the common areas of a building with a maximum travel distance of 75 feet.  In times of emergency, one shouldn’t need to run upstairs, through closed hallway doors, or too far to get a fire extinguisher.  This costs precious time, endangers lives, and creates more liability for the building owners.  

The rule is that one should not travel more than 75 feet to access a fire extinguisher.  This is a good rule for guidance; however, there are practical reasons to exceed the 75 foot rule.  When there are higher fire hazards (laundry rooms, elevator/electrical rooms, parking areas, and kitchens), it is wise and prudent to have more fire extinguishers (less travel distance) in those areas.  If the fire extinguisher is too far from the fire, a tenant is less likely to retrieve a fire extinguisher and return to the fire.  The more time that has lapsed, the larger the fire has become.  People are less likely to fight the fire if it is too large.  Thus, insurance claims climb, probability of injuries increase, and liability skyrockets.  

Service Extinguishers Annually

Existing fire extinguishers are required to be serviced by a licensed company annually.  The company will certify that the fire extinguishers will work in the event of an emergency; thus, reducing the building owner’s liability and fulfilling the state and city law.  If there is a fire and an insurance claim, I have heard of insurance companies denying liability since the building was not being maintained and up to code.  

Cabinets and Breaker Bars

Due to theft, building owners are allowed to put fire extinguishers inside cabinets.  However, there needs to be “a means of emergency access,” also known as breaker bars, attached to the cabinets.  If there isn’t a breaker bar, it takes longer to access the fire extinguisher, or many times people use their hand to break the glass and could get cut.  Your local fire extinguisher company should have breaker bars in stock if needed.  Older cabinets were manufactured without breaker bars.  With this stated, individuals can still get injured or cut when getting the fire extinguisher out of a cabinet even if there is a breaker bar.  

However, over the last decade, cabinet manufacturers have been supplying the breaker bar with alternative types of fronts (not traditional glass); therefore, liability has been reduced with the newer cabinets.  In some cases, we are able to remove the traditional glass from older cabinets and install a clear acrylic front.  All of this is safer for the end user and reduces risk for the building owners.

Concluding Thoughts

Finally, look at your building and ask yourself, if there was a fire: 

  • How far would I need to travel to access a fire extinguisher?  
  • How would I access a fire extinguisher from the cabinet?  
  • How long would it take to get back to the fire?  
  • How much bigger would the fire be when I return with a fire extinguisher?
  • Would the fire extinguisher now be large enough to put out the fire or would I need two or more fire extinguishers?  
  • How many people could be hurt?  
  • How much liability would I incur?  
  • Do I have enough insurance?  
  • Is my building up to code?  
  • Have I taken reasonable steps to safeguard my property?  

If you’re not sure about the answers to these questions, you probably need to make some changes.  The bare minimum amount of fire extinguishers versus good and safe coverage might seem like a good idea at the time; however, to put the bare minimum in to satisfy the code versus what is practical could be a costly mistake when an emergency happens.

Jim Maxey is the Owner/Operator of L.A. Pioneer Fire Protection, Inc.  He has been

personally serving the Los Angeles, West Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley and surrounding areas for 37 years.  For more information, call 323-463-3560, 310-273-6773, 818-785-8571 or visit https://lapioneerfirepro.com/.