Schools are large and busy places so effective fire protection requires detailed planning and preparation. And fire extinguishers in schools are a key area on which to focus.
There had been talk earlier in the year of relaxing fire safety standards in schools to cut costs. Post-Grenfell, the mood has changed and these plans have been put on hold. So, if you’re a school building manager, what aspects of fire extinguisher safety should concern you?
Dealing with the unexpected in your school
During a typical school day, the bell sounds many times. Children scurry to classrooms, take breaks, lurk around corridors, play outside, dash to the school canteen. All pretty commonplace and to be expected, as schools go. Yours is undoubtedly no different.
But then, unexpectedly, an alarm sounds. It’s the fire alarm, but it’s not a planned fire drill. Perhaps a small fire has broken out in the kitchen? Or something in the science block has fallen against a Bunsen burner and caught fire? What would you do? Whatever the case, you’d expect the correct type of fire extinguisher to be on hand and in fully working order.
You’d also want to be sure that trained staff were able to locate them quickly in the event of an emergency fire situation and extinguish the flames without any harm to people (and hopefully property). With appropriate training, this is something we should be able to take for granted. The vast majority of us only ever stop to think about fire protection when an emergency fire situation takes place.
However, what would happen if your trained staff rushed to grab a fire extinguisher and it malfunctioned or didn’t put out the fire properly? What then? Clearly, this would be a stressful situation for all involved – and it’s entirely avoidable.
The right fire extinguisher for the job at hand
There are different types of fire extinguishers suitable for the various classes of fire. When choosing which fire extinguishers are needed in your school, there are certain considerations to bear in mind:
- What is the amount of ‘A’ class cover required for the building
- Is the fire extinguisher appropriate for type of risk environment it is in?
- Have you checked the minimum travel distances between extinguishers?
Getting the balance right and making sure your school is well protected are tasks that require knowledge and experience, so we’d always recommend consulting a reputable and third-party accredited fire safety company rather than attempting a DIY fix. They will arrange an appointment to survey your school buildings and will be able to advise you on correct placement of all your extinguishers and sufficient coverage.
Let’s take a look at a couple of these environments and how we’d evaluate which fire extinguishers in schools should be installed.
1) The typical school kitchen
Most school kitchens have a cooker, a deep fat fryer, handheld appliances such as whisks and food processors and microwaves. There is a ‘mixed risk’ environment so we would recommend a wet chemical extinguisher which can deal with cooking oil in deep fat fryers and CO2 extinguishers for electrical risks.
You will also need to ensure you have a large fire blanket which can be used for pan fires or in the (hopefully) rare event that a person’s clothing or hair catches fire.
2) The typical science block
A science block is a challenging environment with an extensive catalogue of fire risks. From chemicals to computers and not forgetting the iconic Bunsen burner – a staple of all school science blocks – this is, again, a ‘mixed risk’ environment. A powder extinguisher is required for the risks posed by gas, a CO2 extinguisher for electrical risks and a foam extinguisher for flammable liquids. Specialist extinguishers may also be required if your school lab has flammable metals present.
Don’t forget the long-term maintenance of your fire extinguishers
To avoid that stressful situation we talked about earlier of your fire extinguishers malfunctioning at the critical moment, it’s essential that your fire protection service provider can prove their competence to properly maintain them.
The British Standard BS5306-3:2009 states that fire extinguishers should be serviced annually by a ‘competent person’. Guidance states that the competent person need not have any specific academic qualifications but should understand legislation and have appropriate education and training.
If you choose a reputable extinguisher installation/maintenance company, you’ll be in safe hands. We always recommend that whomever you use is registered with a scheme such as the ‘Portable Fire Extinguisher Service Technicians Scheme’ from BAFE.
Nikki – if there’s a suitable link on the FSS site to the definition of a competent person, we can add this in here.
Your fire risk assessment may include a recommendation to have checked more regularly. We find that clients usually stick with the 12 month check. However, as a matter of caution and safety, we would recommended that you also carry out a visual check of all fire extinguishers every month in line with British Standards. Remember, that if fire were to break out, ultimately the responsibility lies with the end user (or ‘responsible person’).
Protect your equipment from petty vandalism
Vandalism of fire extinguishers in schools is surprisingly common. It’s more likely to happen to equipment sited in exits on corridors or open areas. Young people don’t always appreciate the consequences of their actions. They think it’s harmless to let off a fire extinguisher as a practical joke. If you’re concerned about this in your school, take measures to avoid any form of vandalism. These include extinguisher covers, boxes and even lockable boxes. A reputable fire safety company will be able to guide you on what you need.
We also advise that you keep a pool of spare extinguishers to hand. They can be used to replace damaged or vandalised equipment. It means you always have the correct and immediate coverage in place. And it saves on call-out charges with your fire safety company.
Anything else to consider?
Servicing in a school can cause some disruption so we suggest to other schools that we work with that we schedule all extinguisher servicing in the school holidays.
Also, security in schools is paramount. Are the fire protection technicians visiting your school DBS checked so you can ensure the safety of your children? Any reputable fire safety company will have this covered.
If you only take one thing from this blog, please don’t allow your school to get caught out. Using a fire extinguisher in a small fire (if it is safe to do so) will prevent the fire from growing and having a devastating effect on the school and putting life and property at risk.
If you would like to find out more about fire extinguishers in your school or talk about our fire extinguisher services, please call us on 08000 234114.
Darren brings two decades of experience to this role, where he manages the portable extinguisher service and installation team, technician quality auditing, dry risers testing and customer support.
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