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+Jason Hugo

#130 – When and Where Should Fire Extinguishers Be Installed? A Practical Guide for Building Owners

Posted by Jason Hugo on 10/16/2018 to Fire Extinguishers
Fire Extinguisher Guide

The type and placement of fire extinguishers required depends on specific fire hazards, obstacles, and the building's size  

Portable fire extinguishers have proven extremely effective against small fires, with some surveys estimating that extinguishers stop them with 95% success. But because extinguishers are only designed to control fires in their earliest stages – and because fires can spread alarmingly fast – the only effective fire extinguisher is the one that's easy to reach. In this article, we'll look at key sections of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code dealing with when fire extinguishers are needed and where they must be installed.

If you'd like to look at our available products, view our selection of fire extinguishers, fire extinguisher cabinets, or fire extinguisher accessories.

Excluding family homes, buildings of all kinds are required to have fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are required in industrial, commercial, and residential buildings listed in NFPA 1: Fire Code. NFPA 1 mandates fire extinguishers in nearly every kind of building except family homes, duplexes, and manufactured homes.

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 1

 13.6.1.2* Where Required. Fire extinguishers shall be provided where required by this Code as specified in Table 13.6.1.2 and the referenced codes and standards listed in Chapter 2.

NFPA 1 lists the types of buildings requiring portable fire extinguishers, defining them by occupancy classifications. Extinguishers must be installed in the occupancies listed in Table 13.6.1.2 of NFPA 1:

  • Ambulatory health care occupancies
  • Apartment occupancies
  • Assembly occupancies
  • Business occupancies
  • Day-care occupancies
  • Detention and correctional occupancies
  • Educational occupancies
  • Health care occupancies
  • Hotel and dormitory occupancies
  • Industrial occupancies
  • Lodging and rooming house occupancies
  • Mercantile occupancies
  • Occupancies in special structures
  • Residential board and care occupancies
  • Storage occupancies
Further, NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers states that fire extinguishers are required in these structures even when other fire prevention systems, such as fire sprinklers, are installed. 

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 5.1.2 The selection of extinguishers shall be independent of whether the building is equipped with automatic sprinklers, standpipe and hose, or other fixed protection equipment.
Place all fire extinguishers where they're easy to see and reach

Every fire extinguisher must be placed in a visible and easy-to-reach location with the label facing out. They should be installed along hallways, in meeting rooms, near exit doors, and in other common locations. Where visibility is obstructed, visual aids must be provided.

Obstructed Fire Extinguisher
Access to these two fire extinguishers is impaired by a storage bin, placing them temporarily out of reach in a fire event. Source: Hazcat Safety Blog

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 6.1.3 Placement.

 6.1.3.1 Fire extinguishers shall be conspicuously located where they are readily accessible and immediately available in the event of fire.

 6.1.3.2 Fire extinguishers shall be located along normal paths of travel, including exits from areas.

 6.1.3.3 Visual Obstructions.

 6.1.3.3.1 Fire extinguishers shall be installed in locations where they are visible except as permitted by 6.1.3.3.2.

 6.1.3.3.2* In rooms and in locations where visual obstructions cannot be avoided, signs or other means shall be provided to indicate the extinguisher location.

 6.1.3.5 Wheeled fire extinguishers shall be located in designated locations.

 6.1.3.9 Label Visibility.

 6.1.3.9.1 Fire extinguishers shall be installed so that the fire extinguisher’s operating instructions face outward.

The top of an extinguisher weighing 40 pounds or less may be installed as high as five feet above the floor. For heavier extinguishers, that maximum height drops to 3 1/2 feet. The base of each extinguisher must be at least 4 inches above the floor. 

 6.1.3.8 Installation Height.

 6.1.3.8.1 Fire extinguishers having a gross weight not exceeding 40 lb (18.14 kg) shall be installed so that the top of the fire extinguisher is not more than 5 ft (1.53 m) above the floor.

 6.1.3.8.2 Fire extinguishers having a gross weight greater than 40 lb (18.14 kg) (except wheeled types) shall be installed so that the top of the fire extinguisher is not more than 3 1/2 ft (1.07 m) above the floor.

 6.1.3.8.3 In no case shall the clearance between the bottom of the hand portable fire extinguisher and the floor be less than 4 in. (102 mm).

Portable extinguishers without wheels must be kept on a bracket, on a hangar, or in an approved cabinet or wall recess. Regardless, all mounting heights must adhere to these guidelines.

Specific fire hazards and the building's construction determine where fire extinguishers should be placed

Using the wrong extinguishing agent can backfire, making a fire drastically worse. As a result, the type of fire extinguishers needed and where they need to be placed depend on the type and amount of combustible and flammable materials nearby. 

Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher on an electrical fire, WCGW?
This fire extinguishing agent causes a cascading electrical fire on a utility pole. Source: Reddit via imgur.com 

Fire extinguishers are selected and placed with two considerations in mind: the building's structure and the building's contents.

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 5.4.2*  Selection by Occupancy.  Fire extinguishers shall be provided for the protection of both the building structure and the occupancy hazards contained therein regardless of the presence of any fixed fire suppression systems.

Extinguishers are classified according to local hazards and ambient temperature; the type and size of the fire that is most likely to occur; and the fuel type of potential fires: the specific kinds of combustible or flammable materials found in the structure. Not all things burn at the same rate or can be extinguished with the same kind of fire extinguisher: grease, oil, flammable metals, wood, and other substances burn differently. The type and amount of fuel found in a building determines the occupancy hazard – a measure of the expected severity of a fire – which, in turn, determines which kinds of extinguishers are required.  

All fires, from ordinary paper fires to kitchen fires, belong to one of 5 fire classifications: Class A, B, C, D, or K.

Fire Classifications ABCDK
Knowing these five fire classifications is critical to determining the type and number of extinguishers required. Source: City of Dalhart, TX


These classifications are used to categorize a building – or parts of a building – as light hazard, ordinary hazard, or extra hazard. 

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 5.4 Classification of Hazards.

 5.4.1.1*  Light Hazard.  Light hazard occupancies shall be classified as locations where the quantity and combustibility of Class A combustibles and Class B flammables are low and fires with relatively low rates of heat release are expected. Those occupancies consist of fire hazards normally expected quantities of Class A combustible furnishings and/or the total quantity of Class B flammables typically expected to be present is less than 1 gal (3.11 L) in any room or area.

 5.4.1.2* Ordinary Hazard.  Ordinary hazard occupancies shall be classified as locations where the quantity and combustibility of Class A combustible materials and Class B flammables are moderate and fires with moderate rates of heat release are expected. These occupancies consist of fire hazards having normally expected quantities of Class A combustible furnishings, and/or the total quantity of Class B flammables typically expected to be present is less than 1 gal (3.8 L) in any room or area.

 5.4.1.3* Extra Hazard.  Extra hazard occupancies shall be classified as locations where the quantity and combustibility at Class A combustible material are high or where high amounts of Class II flammables are present and rapidly developing fires with high rates of heat release are expected. These occupancies consist of fire hazards involved with the storage, packaging, handling, or manufacture of Class A combustibles, and/or the total quantity of Class B flammables expected to be present is more than 5 gal (18.9 L) in any room or area.

 5.4.1.4  Limited areas of greater or lesser hazard shall be protected as required.

Aircraft Hangar Fire Extinguisher
Aircraft hangars and other facilities with high quantities of combustible materials are classified as Extra Hazard occupancies. 

All buildings require Class A extinguishers to stop fires on walls, floors, and other parts of the building. Additionally, fire extinguishers rated for class A, B, C, D and K hazards must be installed when those hazards are present. A single fire extinguisher capable of fighting more than one type of fire, such as a combination ABC dry chemical extinguisher, may meet the requirements for multiple fire types.  

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 5.4.2.1 Required building protection shall be provided by fire extinguishers for Class A fires.

 5.4.2.2* Occupancy hazard protection shall be provided by fire extinguishers for such Class A, B, C, D, or K fire potentials as might be present.

 5.4.2.4 Buildings having an occupancy hazard subject to Class B or Class C fires, or both, shall have a standard complement of Class A fire extinguishers for building protection, plus additional Class B or Class C fire extinguishers, or both.

 5.4.2.5 Where fire extinguishers have more than one letter classification (such as 2-A-20-B-C), they shall be permitted to satisfy the requirements of each letter class.

Fire Extinguisher Label
The "10A:120B:C" classification of this Buckeye fire extinguisher means that it is rated for use on Class A, B, and C fires.

Each fire extinguisher installed in accordance with NFPA 10 must be within a certain distance of the building's occupants at all time. This travel distance indicates how far a person must walk in order to reach the extinguisher, and all obstructions – permanent or temporary – must be accounted for.

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 E.1.4 Travel distance is the actual distance the user of the fire extinguisher will need to walk. Consequently, travel distance will be affected by partitions, location of doorways, aisles, piles of stored materials, machinery, and so forth.


The travel distance for Class A and Class D fire extinguishers must be 75 feet or less

Extinguishers for a building's Class A fire hazards must be placed such that the travel distance to a fire extinguisher is no more than 75 feet at any given location. This travel distance is the same for light hazard, ordinary hazard, and extra hazard occupancies. However, as many as half of these extinguishers may be replaced by hose stations with the same travel distance.

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 6.2.1.2.1 The minimum number of fire extinguishers for Class A hazards for each floor of a building shall be determined by dividing the total floor area by the maximum area to be protected per extinguisher as determined by Table 6.2.1.1. (See Annex E.) …

 6.2.1.2.2  Fire extinguishers shall be located so that the maximum travel distances shall not exceed 75 ft (22.9 m), except as modified by 6.2.1.4.

 6.2.1.4  Up to one-half of the complement of fire extinguishers specified in Table 6.2.1.1 shall be permitted to be replaced by uniformly spaced 1 1/2 in. (38 mm) hose stations for use by the occupants of the building.

NFPA Table Class A Fire Extinguishers

Like Class A fire extinguishers, Class D fire extinguishers must also be no more than 75 feet away.

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 6.5 Installations for Class D Hazards.

 6.5.2  Fire extinguishers or extinguishing agents (media) shall be located not more than 75 ft (22.9 m) of travel distance from the Class D hazard. (See Section E.6.)

Fire extinguishers for areas with Class B hazards must be no more than 50 feet away

The travel distance for required Class B extinguishers varies with the extinguisher's size. The ratings listed below in table 6.3.1.1 – from 5-B to 80-B – indicate how many square feet of coverage that the extinguisher can provide. For each type of hazard, extinguishers with lower minimum ratings must be placed no more than 30 feet away, while extinguishers with higher minimum ratings may be as far as 50 feet away. 

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 6.3 Installations for Class B Hazards.

 6.3.1.3  Fire extinguishers shall be located so that the maximum travel distances do not exceed those specified in Table 6.3.1.1.

NFPA Table Class B Fire Extinguishers

Class C-rated fire extinguishers are placed based on Class A and Class B requirements

Class C fires are simply A or B fires – or a combination of the two – involving electrical equipment. As a result, placement for Class C fire extinguishers is based on the expected A or B hazards in the area.

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 6.4*  Installations for Class C Hazards.

 6.4.3 Because the fire is a Class A or Class B hazard, the fire extinguishers shall be sized and located on the basis of the anticipated Class A or Class B hazard.

Class K-rated fire extinguishers may be no more than 30 feet away 

Class K extinguishers are designed for fires in commercial kitchens and should be placed near deep-fryers and other cooking surfaces. Barbecues, ovens, and other cooking appliances utilizing solid fuel, such as charcoal, require a K-rated extinguisher nearby if their fuel chamber, or firebox, is more than five cubic feet in size.

From the 2018 edition of NFPA 10

 6.6  Installations for Class K Hazards.

 6.6.2 Maximum travel distance shall not exceed 30 ft (9.1 m) from the hazard to the extinguishers.

 6.6.3 All solid fuel cooking appliances (whether or not under a hood) with fire boxes of 5 ft3 (0.14 m3) volume or less shall have at least a listed 2-A rated water-type fire extinguisher or a 1.6 gal (6 L) wet chemical fire extinguisher that is listed for Class K fires.

Buckeye CO2 Fire Extinguishers

Choosing and placing fire extinguishers

If you need additional fire extinguishers to comply with NFPA placement guidelines, take a look at our selection of ABC-rated dry chemical extinguishers and BC-rated CO2 extinguishers.  
Buckeye, a North Carolina-based fire extinguisher, offers portable dry chemical fire extinguishers – rated for Class A, Class B, and Class C fires – in sizes from 2 1/2 pounds (1A:10B:C) to 20 pounds (10A:120B:C), and CO2 fire extinguishers up to 20 pounds (10B:C)

Each extinguisher is compliant with standards established by the NFPA, Department of Transportation, and the US Coast Guard. Matching fire extinguisher mounting brackets, as well as extinguisher cabinets and other fire extinguisher accessories, are also available.

If you have any questions about placing or replacing your fire extinguishers, call us at 888.361.6662 or get in touch through our contact page.

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