History of fire extinguisher

The History of The Fire Extinguisher

Fire Extinguishers save hundreds of lives every year and we are accustomed to seeing them throughout business and offices in our day to day lives. But have you ever stopped to think about how they evolved to become the trusted and familiar sight they are today?

We know that the Romans used bucket chains, buckets passed hand to hand to deliver water to the fire. Then, in the middle ages, a nozzle dipped into water worked rather like a bicycle pump – the water was sucked up by pulling out the plunger, then the plunger pushed down to push out the water which would be aimed at the fire. This was known as a squirt. Squirts were used to tackle the Great Fire of London in 1666.

In 1819 Captain George William Manby invented the first version of the modern fire extinguisher which was a copper vessel containing 3 gallons of pearl ash solution under compressed air pressure. The carbon tetrachloride or CTC extinguisher was pioneered by Pyrene around 1912. The CTC vaporised and extinguished flames by interfering with the chemical reaction and was suitable for liquid and electrical fires. However, the vapour and combustion by-products were highly toxic and use of these extinguishers in confined spaces was hazardous and could result in death.

The soda-acid extinguisher, a cylinder containing water that had sodium bicarbonate mixed in, was invented in the late 19th century. Within the cylinder there was a vial containing sulphuric acid which was broken when the extinguisher was put to use, mixing the acid with the bicarbonate solution to create carbon dioxide gas that would pressurize the water.

The modern extinguishers that we see today appeared around the middle of the twentieth century. These generally have a pressurised vessel to store and discharge the extinguishing agent.

Despite the years of development, there remains a great deal of confusion about which fire extinguisher to use and how to use it. Are you confident that you and your staff would know which fire extinguisher to use in a particular situation? If you need guidance contact us today.

We will carry out a full assessment of your business or building and offer a solution designed to keep you and your employees safe. All workplaces should have multiple fire extinguishers to cover the different types of fire that may occur. We also offer education via our fire safety training courses to ensure they are used properly.

If I come across a fire, should I tackle it with the nearest fire extinguisher?

Not necessarily, some fires require a particular type of extinguisher. In the case of an oil fire, you could make matters worse by using a water fire extinguisher. If in doubt, check the label on the extinguisher before use

Which type of extinguisher is best suited to electrical fires?

Water and electricity are best kept apart. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are safe to use on an electrical fire, they work by cutting off the supply of air to the fire and will not leave a residue.

How long do fire extinguishers last?

If well maintained fire extinguishers can last for a number of years, but regular maintenance is key. Fire extinguishers should be serviced every 12 months by a professional, with a visual inspection being carried out once a month by your Fire Warden.