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    Who is Responsible for Selection, Placement, and Servicing of Extinguishers?

    By Mark Conroy

    Portable fire extinguishers are the first line of defense in the event of fire in buildings. But are buildings equipped with the proper type of extinguishers and the right number of extinguishers, and are they in working order?

    Everyone knows a little about extinguishers, but very few people understand the requirements of NFPA 10, Portable Fire Extinguishers, for proper selection and placement of extinguishers throughout buildings. Ask your average fire protection engineer working at a consulting firm if he knows about extinguishers, and he'll probably say he learned about them in school and could probably use one in an emergency. But ask about selection and placement throughout a particular building or the specifics of servicing those extinguishers to keep them ready for use, and he'll probably tell you that he leaves all that up to the specialists.

    That statement couldn't be more true. The fire protection community relies on a highly skilled, but not a very well-publicized, group of specialists or experts, called "fire equipment distributors," (FEDs) for this activity. These are the local companies that deal in portable fire extinguishers and sometimes service pre-engineered restaurant fire extinguishing systems. Every community has at least one. Even fire officials rely heavily on the expertise of FED's to ensure that extinguishers are in place and ready to use. Let's take a closer look.

    When a new building is constructed or an older building is renovated, many fire protection companies get involved. The architect for the building will subcontract much of the fire protection work to these companies, which include fire protection engineering (FPE) firms that help design and provide advice on compliance with NFPA 101, Life Safety Code, for egress requirements. They'll also turn to a local sprinkler contractor to design and install the automatic sprinkler system for the building to be in accordance with NFPA 13, Installation of Sprinkler Systems. If there is a data center or multiple data centers that are vital to business continuity, they'll turn to the FPE firm and a local gaseous agent extinguishing system design and installation firm so that the systems will comply with NFPA 75, Protection of Information Technology Equipment, and NFPA 2001, Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems.

    The fire alarm systems complying with NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code, are designed and installed by local companies with this expertise in detection. Often, the detection system work will have to be coordinated with the sprinkler design. Detection systems are integral components of clean agent systems, so the detection design and installation is always coordinated with the gaseous agent system installation. But proper selection and placement of extinguishers are normally left up to the local FED, because architectural firms normally rely on FEDs so they don't have to have additional people on staff with expertise in the NFPA 10 requirements. Thus the FED takes the lead in selecting and placing the extinguishers in most new and renovated buildings in the United States. In the end, their decisions might only be reviewed by the fire inspector.

    The architect relies heavily on the FED's expertise so that the building owner will get the certificate of occupancy (CO) when the construction work is completed, the fire extinguishers are installed, and the building is ready to occupy. If extinguishers are overlooked in a building where they are required, the owner will not get a CO until the extinguishers are in place. Without the CO, the building will remain vacant and potential leasing revenue will not be realized.

    For many of these buildings, the final walk-through by the fire inspector is often the last check for compliance that many of these buildings get for several years. With the large number of buildings in the United States, and the small number of fire inspectors available to inspect them, building owners rely heavily on the FEDs to ensure that the extinguishers are in place, serviced, and ready to use.

    The next time you walk by an extinguisher, check the tag. If it has an FED annual maintenance tag, with a current date, and the initials of the fire extinguisher service technician you can be reasonably assured that it is the right one for the hazards in the area and that it is maintained and ready to be used as your first line of defense in the event of a fire emergency.

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