en-Gauge Fire and Life Safety Blog

The Importance of Fire Extinguishers

Posted by Brendan McSheffrey on 1/13/11 9:55 AM

Just how important to society are fire extinguishers?  It turns out VERY IMPORTANT!  Often ignored,  even by the fire community, these overlooked life safety devices play a vital role in keeping us safe.  It is time for fire extinguishers to get the respect they deserve.
For most people fire extinguishers are invisible red cans on walls,  never looked at,  rarely considered.
fire_extinguisher_training-1 To some they are the joke in a funny story about cooling beer in college or the laugh from the time they shot one off that drunken night.  But in more than 600 businesses and non-residential structures every day in America they are the difference between a minor fire problem and a conflagration.

Yes, you read that right, 600 time a day fire extinguishers put out fires in non-residential structures in the United States and many more around the globe.

Here are the facts.  

According to the most recent NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) data1, in 2008 U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,451,500 fires.  These fires resulted in 3,320 civilian fire fatalities, 16,705 civilian fire injuries and an estimated $15,478,000,000 in direct property loss.
Of these fires 112,000 were responded to in commercial or municipal buildings.  Of the over $15 Billion in property damage, more than $3.811 Billion took place in these non-residential structures.  This represents an average loss per reported incident in non-residential / commercial structures of over $34,000.
These facts, pure and simple, don’t tell the story of the true value of fire extinguishers to our society.

The Vital Role of Fire Extinguishers


To highlight the effectiveness of extinguishers in the early stage fire fighting, a 2002 UK study performed by FETA (Fire Extinguishing Trades Association) and IFEDA (Independent Fire Engineering and Distributors Association) reviewed over 2100 fire incidents and found that in 80% of the cases a portable fire extinguisher successfully extinguished the fire and in 75% of those cases, the fire department was not required to attend.

FireExtinguisher(1)_0-1A similar survey was conducted in 2002 by EUROFEU (European Committee of the Manufacturers of Fire Protection Equipment and Fire Fighting Vehicles) in 6 European countries and it found strikingly consistent results.  In over 2600 incidents recorded it concluded that in 81.5% of cases the portable extinguisher successfully extinguished the fire and in 74.6% of the cases the fire department was not required to attend.

Extrapolating the results of these surveys to the U.S. market provides solid statistical evidence that in approximately 80% of all fire incidents a portable fire extinguisher is the only fire fighting tool needed to extinguish the fire.  Further, they indicate that in 60% of all fire incidents the fire department is not notified (and thus the event would not  appear in NFPA statistics).  If applied to the 2008 NFPA data, fire extinguishers effectively managed approximately 224,000 fires in commercial structures, 168,000 of which do not appear in NFPA statistics.  

Fire Extinguishers in Academic Settings

To provide some additional insight, a 2010 White Paper from Worcester Polytechnic Institute reported on the use of fire extinguishers to combat real fires in academic settings.  According to their research, fire extinguishers are used approximately 15,000 times each year in schools, colleges, universities, dormitories, fraternities, sororities and barracks.  
That means that fire extinguishers are called into service more that 41 times each day as the first line of fire defense in our nations schools.  What is more important than protecting the lives of our young people?

Fires in Hotels

According to a recent article on HotelInteractive.com, a leading web portal for hotel professionals,

....an estimated 3,900 fires occur each year in hotels and motels. Annually, these fires result in $76 million in property loss.


According to a recent report by the U.S. Fire Administration, 46 percent of hotel and motel fires are caused by cooking, with electrical malfunctions and heating each causing an additional 7 percent of fires. These fires occur primarily in the evening, between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. While 73 percent of fires are confined to the object of origin, 18 percent are confined to the room of fire origin and the remaining 9 percent of fires extend beyond the room of origin.

With 73 % of these fires confined to the object of origin, it is easy to see the absolutely
large_fire-extinguisher-in-use-1 critical role that fire extinguishers play in keeping the guests in hotels safe.  Extrapolating the prominent studies,  this indicated more than 20 fires everyday are put out by fire extinguishers in hotels.

Fire Extinguishers Protect the Environment

Fire extinguishers also play a critical role in protecting the environment by controlling fires at their very early stages.  According to a 2010 White Paper from Green Collar Research, a leading sustainability on-line research organization,

From a safety as well as from an environmental and carbon release perspective, the management of a fire with a fire extinguisher when it is in its very early stages is a best case scenario.

Green Collar Research sums up the beneficial role that fire extinguishers, and particularly electronically monitored fire extinguishers like those offered by en-Gauge, in the following manner.

Fire and fire protection plays a significant role in releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  Fire extinguishers play a crucial role in protecting the environment due to their proven ability to fight fires while they are at their very early stages.  The availability of accessible and working fire extinguishers assures that the highest possible percentage of fires will be controlled with the minimal environmental impact possible.

Replacing the inefficient and carbon-intensive manual extinguisher inspection methodology with electronically monitored extinguishers will have significant positive impacts on the environment, including:

  • ·Fewer carbon emissions from fire incidents in which a missing, blocked or non-functioning fire extinguisher is a contributing factor

  • Reduced embodied carbon generated via the manufacture of replacement building materials necessary to repair fire damage

  • Reduced carbon emission from the burning of fossil fuels for transportation necessary for the manual inspection of extinguishers

  • Reduced water use required to fight fires

  • Reduced levels of persistent pollutants associated with fires and waste water run-off


Fire Extinguishers - Society’s Silent Heroes

With all of the benefits that fire extinguishers provide for us, it is surprising that we don’t appreciate them more.  
Extinguisher_in_useIn fact, the only time we think about them is when we need them in an emergency.  The only time we hear about them is when they are unavailable, or when the are unable to do their job.  

One of the major concerns relative to fire extinguishers is that the 30-day fire extinguisher inspection required by the National Fire Protection Association in NFPA 10, is not sufficient to be sure fire extinguishers are available, accessible and functional at all times.  In order to ensure these silent heroes are ready when needed, it is crucial to have them monitored 24/7, just like all of the other, less utilized aspects of our fire protection systems.  To learn more about electronic monitoring of fire extinguishers, please visit http://www.engaugeinc.net.

Topics: Fire Extinguisher Inspections, OSHA 1910, Fire Extinguisher, Codes and Standards, Annual Inspection, Fire Extinguisher Inspection, Missing Fire Extinguishers, Environmental Protection, Electronic Monitoring Fire Extinguisher, Hotel and Hospitality, Campus Fire and Security, Fire Extinguisher Monitoring, 30 Day Fire Extinguisher Inspection, NFPA 10 Code Compliance, NFPA 10, Missing Fire Extinguisher, Electronic Monitoring