Should we still have Portable Dry Powder Extinguishers on our boats?
Published: 14 November 2023
An amendment to BS 5306-8 in 2012 regarding the regulation of Dry Powder Extinguishers has come onto the radar of Health and Safety professionals, which leads to the question: Should we still be installing Powder Extinguishers on our boats?
Here are some of the facts to help you make sense of this amendment.
BS 5306-8:2012 - Clause 4.2 states: “The impact of the discharge of the extinguishing medium on the environment should be taken into account. Extinguishing medium can cause collateral damage to many things such as, but not restricted to, food, machinery, building fabric, fixtures, fittings, artefacts and sensitive equipment.”
The very fine powder particles spread far and wide and, are corrosive which can cause thousands of pounds of damage irrespective of the fire damage. Of course, failing to put out the fire will do even more damage. But what the standard is really saying is if you can use a medium which will cause less collateral damage, you should do so.
It’s common to find automatic Dry Powder extinguishers mounted in engine compartments. This is mainly on the grounds of cost. However, if these are discharged in the compartment, the powder is likely to damage all the equipment within the compartment - causing thousands of pounds of additional damage then the fire itself. It therefore does not make economic or environmental sense to use Automatic Dry powder extinguishers in machinery compartments when there are residue free, safe alternatives.
The second reference specifically addresses the possible harm to people, caused by the use of Powder Extinguishers:
Extract from BS 5306 Part 8: 2012 (5.4.3 Use of powder extinguishers): “The discharge of a powder extinguisher within buildings can cause a sudden reduction of visibility and can also impair breathing, which could temporarily jeopardise escape, rescue or other emergency action. For this reason, powder extinguishers should generally not be specified for use indoors, unless mitigated by a health and safety risk assessment.”
A decade ago, Dry Powder extinguishers were the go-to multipurpose extinguishing agent to cover most of the fires found on a boat and therefore were the only type of extinguisher carried aboard. However, things have changed. We now have Lithium batteries in our phones, laptops, EPIRBs, SARTs, electronic flares and as main power source. Dry powder is not suitable to fight lithium battery fires. This means one should already be carrying an extinguisher to fight these types of fire.
So, is there anywhere on a boat where Powder Extinguishers should now be used? The answer is probably “NO” as there are better and safer alternatives.
Fires are split in to classes:
Class A – Fires involving solid materials such as wood, paper or textiles.
Class B – Fires involving flammable liquids such as petrol, diesel or oils.
Class C – Fires involving gases.
Class D – Fires involving metals.
Class E – Fires involving live electrical apparatus.
(*Technically ‘Class E’ does not exist. However, this is used for convenience to describe fires in electrical appliances.)
Class F – Fires involving cooking oils such as in deep-fat fryers.
Lithium - Fires involving Lithium Batteries.
On a boat we need to carry firefighting equipment to tackle most of these classes. So how do we do this?
One option is to carry multiple extinguishers with different extinguishing agents to cover all the classes. Listed below are some of the agents and the class of fires they cover.
- Foam = Covers Class A, B and E Fires*
(Often used as a general-purpose extinguisher in place of Dry Powder.)
- HFC 236fa clean agent= Class A, B, C and E Fires*
(In the marine market this extinguishant is mostly used in automatic extinguishers in engine compartments)
- Fluoroketone (FK) Clean Agent = Class A, B, C and E Fires*
(Relatively new extinguishing agent mostly used in multipurpose portable extinguishers the extinguishant is both environmentally friendly, covers most fire classes and leaves no residue)
- AVD (Aqueous Vermiculite Dispersion) compound = Lithium Fires
(A relatively new extinguishing agent used in portable extinguishers to fight Lithium Fires)
However, the best solution is a new extinguishing agent made by FireXO which covers all of the classes of fire listed above including Lithium batteries all in one cylinder that come in various sizes.
FireXO’s patented medium is a water-based solution with natural additives that entered the marketplace in 2018 and has since achieved various accreditations to both British and European standards. Suitable for use on the various fire risks that can be found on boats, the new medium is also non-toxic, pH neutral and readily biodegradable which means it does not possess any of the same negative impacts that you would find with a Powder.
The current FireXO range stretches to extinguishers only thus far, but FireXO have shared plans to gradually move into suppression and fixed systems as they grow. FireXO’s current kitemark certification ensures both high quality product performance and full compliance to any insurance requirements you will need to meet.
The servicing to be carried out on FireXO will take the same form as traditional extinguishers, needing annual maintenance and a 5-year discharge test in line with BS 5306-3. This maintenance can be carried out by any qualified or competent engineer that is able to service a Water or Foam unit as the checks are exactly the same.
Should you wish to get hold of any FireXO products, you will be able to access exclusive discounts for being a YDSA member, by using code “YDSAPROTECT” when shopping via their website.
Written by YDSA Chair, Tim Barker - Anchor Marine Surveys