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How to Calculate the Number of Extinguishers Needed in a Building


by Mark Conroy, Sr. Engineer for Technical Services, Brooks Equipment (April, 2009)

Calculating the number of extinguishers needed in an office building is fairly simple, but it is the step
most often overlooked when extinguishers are installed. Although a major portion of Annex E in the 2007
edition of NFPA 10, Portable Fire Extinguishers, is devoted to explaining the topic, calculations are
simply not conducted for the vast majority of buildings in which extinguishers are installed. As a result,
the same number and size of extinguishers are often provided for both light- and ordinary-hazard
occupancies. This is not logical, as there would be no need for the separate classifications if the 75-foot
(22.8-meter) travel distance were the only criterion.
If your building code or a local ordinance requires extinguishers in an office building, heres a simple way
to calculate how many youll need.
The general reason extinguishers are needed in office buildings is that they contain Class A hazards such
as furnishings and floor and wall coverings. Paragraph 5.4.1.1 and associated annex material in NFPA 10
reveal that the hazard class for a typical office building is light-hazard occupancy. Although some office
buildings contain flammable liquids, we will assume here that there are none for simplicitys sake.
Calculations are always conducted to determine the number of extinguishers based on the smallest
extinguishers allowed. Additional calculations are performed to compare the cost of fewer larger
extinguishers. Table 6.2.1.1 of NFPA 10 provides the basis for determining the minimum quantity of
extinguishers.
The smallest rating for a Class A extinguisher for a light-hazard occupancy in Table 6.2.1.1 is 2-A.
Multiplying the number in the rating by the maximum floor area per unit of A in the table provides the
maximum area to be protected by a single extinguisher. Since the maximum area for the smallest
extinguisher for a light-hazard occupancy is 3,000 square feet (278.7 square meters), the coverage for
one extinguisher with a rating of 2-A can be determined as follows:
2 x 3,000 = 6,000 ft (557 m)/ extinguisher
For a single-story office building, multiplying the length by the width provides the total floor area. A floor
that is 300 feet (91 meters) by 450 feet (137 meters) has a floor area of 135,000 square feet (12,542
square meters). The floor area is divided by 6,000 square feet (557 square meters) per extinguisher to get
the minimum number of 2-A rated extinguishers needed. Thus:
135,000 ft (12,542 m) 6,000 ft
(557 m)/extinguisher = 22.5, 2-A rated extinguishers, rounded to 23
The calculated quantity of larger extinguishers can be compared by following the same procedure. The
number of extinguishers with ratings of 3-A is calculated as follows:
3 x 3,000 = 9,000 ft (836 m)/extinguisher
135,000 ft (12,542 m2) 9,000 ft (836 m2)/extinguisher = 15 3-A rated extinguishers
The number of extinguishers with ratings of 4-A is calculated as follows:
4 x 3,000 = 12,000 ft/ (1,115 m) extinguisher
However, Table 6.2.1.1 does not permit one to exceed 11,250 square feet (1,045 square meters) per
extinguisher. So:

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135,000 ft (12,542 m2) 11,250 ft (1,045 m)/extinguisher = 12 4-A rated extinguishers


The 11,250-square-foot (1,045-squaremeter) limitation is based on a square inside a circle with a radius
of 75 feet (23 meters). The square root of 11,250 is 106, so hypothetically a 135,000-squarefoot (12,542square-meter) building with no walls, partitions, or other obstructions could have 12 extinguishers and
still satisfy the travel distance rule. Since this is virtually impossible, 4-A rated extinguishers are not
normally used.
If the number of extinguishers needed to satisfy the travel distance rule is at least 15, but not more than
22, then extinguishers with a 3-A rating are used. If the travel distance rule necessitates installing 23 or
more, then 2-A rated units are used.
The same concepts apply to ordinary and extra hazards.
This comparison makes more sense if you look at ordinary- and extra hazard occupancies, where the
calculated quantity far exceeds the number needed to satisfy the 75-foot (23-meter) travel distance. The
logic is that the more severe hazards necessitate more extinguishers. And since more extinguishers will be
installed, the travel distance from any point to an extinguisher will generally be less than the required 75
feet (23 meters). With ordinary- and extra-hazard occupancies, the exercise is thus to see whether fewer
extinguishers with higher ratings can be used.
Table 6.2.1.1 is also used to calculate the number of extinguishers for ordinary- and extra-hazard
occupancies. For a building with a floor area of 135,000 square feet (12,542 square meters), the ordinaryhazard classification allows a minimum-rated single extinguisher with a 2-A rating and a maximum floor
area per unit of A of 1,500 square feet (139 square meters).
2 x 1,500 = 3,000 ft (279 m)/extinguisher 135,000 3,000 = 45 extinguishers rated 2-A
Table 6.2.1.1 provides the maximum travel distance to an extinguisher of 75 square feet (7 square meters)
for all three hazard classifications. It is always tempting to provide fewer extinguishers for the ordinaryhazard occupancy, as the 75-square-foot (7-square-meter) rule can easily be met with fewer extinguishers
than the calculated 45. Since NFPA 10 does not permit fewer extinguishers than the calculated quantity,
calculations are performed for the next two larger-sized extinguishers to determine the most economical
solution:
3 x 1,500 = 4,500 ft (418 m)/extinguisher135,000 4,500 = 30 extinguishers rated 3-A
4 x 1,500 = 6,000 ft (557 m)/extinguisher 135,000 6,000 = 22.5 extinguishers rated 4-A, rounded to
23
It makes sense to start with 23 extinguishers with 4-A ratings and determine whether the travel distance
rule can be satisfied or additional extinguishers are needed. It is easy to see that 23 extinguishers rated
4-A are needed for ordinary-hazard occupancies, while 23 extinguishers rated 2-A are needed for lighthazard occupancies. This makes sense since the maximum floor area per unit of A for ordinary-hazard
occupancies is 1,500 square feet (139 square meters) versus 3,000 square feet (279 square meters) for
light-hazard occupancies, as shown in Table 6.2.1.1. Extra hazard allows a minimum rated single
extinguisher with a 4-A rating and a maximum floor area per unit of A of 1,000 square feet (93 square
meters).
4 x 1,000 = 4,000 ft (372 m)/extinguisher135,000 ft 4,000 ft (372 m)/extinguisher = 33.7
extinguishers, rounded to 34.
The number and the cost of larger extinguishers should be compared in a manner similar to that done for
light- and ordinary-hazard occupancies.

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In sum
Calculations are performed to determine the minimum number of extinguishers needed based on
extinguisher ratings, and several calculations must be preformed for comparison. The minimum
calculated number of extinguishers must be strategically placed throughout the building and the minimum
travel distance of 75 feet (23 meters) from any point to an extinguisher must not be exceeded.
Additional extinguishers are sometimes needed to satisfy the 75-foot (23-meter) travel distance rule. You
cannot reduce the calculated quantity of extinguishers.
Calculating the quantity of extinguishers is fairly simple and should be the first step you take when
installing extinguishers in a building. The second step is to make sure that the distribution of the minimum
number of extinguishers satisfies the 75-foot (22-meter) travel distance rule.
Providing the correct number of extinguishers will not only preclude a monetary fine by an authority
having jurisdiction, but it will ensure that an adequate number of manual firefighting devices are available
should they be needed. Adhering to the travel distance rule will ensure that extinguishers are
conveniently located anywhere a fire could occur. Complying with both criteria will ensure a greater
chance of success in the event of a fire.
This article first appeared in the NFPA Journal Jan./Feb. 2009. Reprinted with permission from NFPA.
Copyright 2009, NFPA, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from NFPA 10, Portable Fire
Extinguishers, Copyright 2007, National Fire Protection

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