50:50? The reaction to the new P50 fire extinguisher
Fire extinguishers put out more blazes than municipal fire services every year, according to industry surveys: these short stack fire fighters are truly the unsung heroes of fire safety. In the past few years, an new breed of hero has appeared, tougher, more independent - and more expensive. “Is it the James Bond of fire extinguishers?” asked one Health and Safety blogger of the P50 fire extinguisher. “It takes the fire safety industry to a new level,” claims one supplier.
To an untrained eye the P50 fire extinguisher may look much the same as any of the stumpy cylinders which lurk in every premises across the nation. But to those who know their foam from their dry powder, the P50 has started something of a revolution. It has also kicked off an intense debate among fire safety experts.
Formula 1 technology
The traditional steel pressure cylinders have always had their problems - their lining can corrode or detach, they can be dented, the contents can freeze and burst the container. The P50’s inner 3-layer chamber does not react with the foam or powder inside; the pressurised container is wrapped in super-strong aramid fibre (a material also known by brand name Kevlar), rather than steel. One early use of aramid was by Formula 1 car manufacturers because of its impressive strength and modest weight. The whole unit is encased in UV protective high density polyethylene. The P50’s safety has been recognised with the Kitemark, fulfilling British Standard EN3. They can be filled with foam or powder, which between them can extinguish most types of fires (those classed A, B, C and E).
For those marketing the P50, its major selling point is the much-reduced servicing schedule and associated cost saving - they are most often branded “Service-free”. All traditional steel fire extinguishers have to be serviced by a qualified professional at least annually to comply with BS5306-3 and BS5306-8. It’s promised that the near-invincible P50 unit only needs a full service and refill after ten years and will last another decade. In the meantime regular visual checks by the user are considered sufficient maintenance.
“Fit and forget”
There has been wide-ranging reaction from the fire safety industry. While Essex County Fire Service and the Chief Fire Officer’s Association have gone as far as to endorse and market the P50 through their own trading arms, other professionals have strongly criticised the “service-free” model, voicing concerns that users will just “fit and forget” these new extinguishers. The Independent Fire Engineering and Distributors Association (IFEDA) made a statement expressing disbelief that the hard-won safety standard of annual servicing is being undermined by the arrival of the P50. One major insurer has also indicated it has reservations about the use of P50s, in part because of the many additional benefits of an annual visit from a fire safety specialist who often would check other aspects of fire safety as well as servicing the extinguishers. The same insurer also expressed concerns about installing P50s in “hostile environments” such as recycling centres or construction sites where damage to fire extinguishers is more likely and could go undetected.
While the new technology is impressive and has been embraced by a number of major companies such as Kier, other users continue to feel cautious about switching to P50s in these early days of the innovation. A regular servicing regime feels reassuring for good reason.
McCormack Benson Health and Safety’s experts provide comprehensive and reliable fire safety services for single and multi-site organisations.