View Full Version : A note on fire extinguishers from RCAAM

12-27-2010, 10:31 AM
A cross post from the RCAAM Listserv about hand-held fire extinguishers in collections storage:

There are a few types of handheld fire extinguishers out there, so talk with your fire department for advice before purchasing anything (and remember, whatever you purchase must be regularly inspected and certified). The CO2 fire extinguishers are more appropriate for collections as ABC-type extinguishers use a chemical powder to extinguish the fire, which then leaves you with chemical powder all over your collections as it goes everywhere when the extinguisher is deployed. CO2 comes out very cold and can cause any artifacts in direct contact with the CO2 to possibly freeze, but there is no chemical powder residue. Additionally, there are water extinguishers, but they're generally quite rare.

Last spring I did a training event with the fire marshal for museum collections staff to learn about different types of extinguishers and to deploy the training extinguishers (it's a simulated electronic screen and extinguisher). With a little encouraging, the fire marshal also brought the different types of extinguishers I mentioned above and everyone got to do actual hands-on training outside. I put a few broken bits of shell and garden pottery from home down on the ground to run a series of tests of what happens to artifacts when the extinguishers are deployed directly ON the artifacts. The shell and pottery, being light, moved a little with the power of the compressed chemical, gas and water extinguishers, as expected. ABC chemical adhered to both types of materials and although initially seemed to brush off, once water was applied (ie simulating a fire suppression system activating), the ABC chemical adhered to both the shell and pottery. The residue was yellowish with different flecks of materials in it, some of which shimmered like mica. (The chemical compositions are proprietary and the fire marshal and I haven't had a chance to thoroughly test the chemicals, yet.) I didn't have anything taxidermy, ethnographic leather, or such to test, but I'd imagine it'd be truly awful to have to try to remove ABC chemical from such objects, or anything organic, since it adhered to my shells and pottery.

The fire marshal and I had intended to run more tests and present at AAM but with staff cuts for him and switching jobs for me, we've both been too busy to move forward with our experiments. We haven't given up on it yet, so maybe we'll still get to it in the near future.


Paul Brewin
12-29-2010, 09:55 AM
We recently experienced an FM-200 (proprietary fire suppression agent) dispersal in one of our vaults. Don't know yet if there was any problem with that kind of chemical (it's touted as being "safe"). We will have some refresher training soon with the suppression system contractor, and it's a good reminder for us to also look at the impacts of the different portable types mentioned here. Thanks!