Who is responsible for using a fire extinguisher

Fire Safety

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 it is the responsibility of the Responsible Person to appoint competent persons for fire safety functions and to ensure their employees receive adequate training, refresher training and development. This includes fire protection and prevention awareness, elements of the fire triangle, types of fires and relevant fire extinguishing equipment, and how to use of the fire equipment effectively.

Who is responsible for using a fire extinguisher?

The appropriate person who has had the correct training should be responsible for using a fire extinguisher on a small fire. You should not use one if you have not been properly trained, unless the fire extinguisher is to be used as an aid to escape. The correct type of extinguisher must be used and without training you could injure yourself, others and/or make the fire worse.

When do you use a fire extinguisher?

  • After the fire alarm has been raised and the building/area evacuation has commenced.
  • The fire is not between you and your escape route.
  • The fire is in its very early stages, small in size, contained, and only requires one fire extinguisher.
  • The fire does not involve electrics or is not near live electrical equipment, unless using a Water Mist (De-Ionised water) fire extinguisher and <1000 voltage, or electrical supply is switched off.
  • The room is not full of smoke.
  • You have the correct extinguisher for the type of fire.
  • You are one metre from the fire (do not move forward unless it is safe to do so).
  • Emergency services have been called.

When do you not use a fire extinguisher?

  • The fire is too big or would require more than one fire extinguisher.
  • Fires involving escaping gases, high voltage electrics.
  • The evacuation route is obstructed.
  • There are high levels of smoke.
  • The area is too hot.
  • You have not been trained.

Types of fire extinguishers

There are several types of fire extinguishers and each one has a specific use depending on the type of fire.

The five main types of fire extinguisher are:

  • Water – Fire Class A; suitable for use on wood, paper and textiles, water extinguishers eject a spray over Class A fires
  • Co2 – Fire Class B; suitable for use on electrical ignitions and flammable liquids, and Class B fires
  • Foam – Fire Class A & B; suitable for use on both Class A and Class B fires, and appropriate on petrol, oils, fat and paint fires
  • Powder – Fire Class A, B & C; suitable for fire on a mixture of materials, powder extinguishers are notably useful on methane, hydrogen and flammable liquid fires
  • Wet Chemical – Fire Class F; specifically for use on cooking oil fires, wet chemical extinguishers are commonly found in kitchens.

Where to put fire extinguishers?

The BS 5306 calculation formula can be used to establish the number of extinguishers required for the floor footprint.

For example: how many Class A water fire extinguishers are required for a 600m2­­ floor footprint?

The basic calculation for siting fire extinguishers is given in this example:

The fire rating is found by multiplying the floor area in metres squared by 0.065

The floor space dimension is 30m x 20m, giving 600m2

600m2 x 0.065 = fire rating of 39

The basic 9L water fire extinguisher has a rating of 13A

39 ÷ 9 = 3

So, 3 x 9L water fire extinguishers would be required for the floor space.

However, if the floor footprint/premises consists of or has a high hazardous area, there is a likelihood that more fire extinguishers for that area and class of fire would need to be installed.

Fire extinguishers are usually sited in pairs, and generally located in escape routes. i.e. corridors, stairways, landing, lobbies, etc. Each fire extinguisher location point, should display a ‘fire extinguisher location point' sign if the location is not evident. i.e. in a recess or behind a column, a 'fire extinguisher type' sign that explains the content and class of fire, and for extinguishers greater than 6L the fire extinguisher handle must be located 1m above the ground. For smaller fire extinguishers this height should be 1.5m.


If the fire extinguisher cannot be mounted on a wall, then a display unit can be used. The operator of the fire extinguisher should not have to travel more than 30m from the fire in order to retrieve the fire extinguisher.

How often should fire extinguishers be replaced according to regulations?

Fire extinguishers are an integral part of the fire safety provisions within any building for business and are subject to maintenance and service requirements in accordance with BS5306-3. To ensure that fire extinguishers are in good working order, they must have an annual basic service and be replaced every five years. The exception to the five year replacement is the new type of CO2 fire extinguishers which should be replaced every 10 years.

If an extinguisher is damaged or unable to be used safely, it should be replaced immediately. If the fire extinguisher has been discharged, it is to be replaced and the used fire extinguisher returned to the supplier or service contractor for refilling and re-issuing.

Are fire extinguishers a legal requirement?

By law and fire safety legislation, the Responsible Person must carry out or arrange a fire risk assessment for the business premises. As part of this fire risk assessment, appropriate fire detection and firefighting equipment will be required for the premises, and fire extinguishers come under this equipment. To remain compliant with the current British Standard (BS 5306-3), fire extinguishers must be serviced every year. It is up to the Responsible Person to ensure fire extinguishers are easily accessible on the premises and a sufficient number of people are trained to use them.

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