Why a fire hose reel might be the wrong fire fighting tool for you

A fire hose reel isn’t the right fire fighting tool in all circumstances. Fire and Safety Centre guides you through what you need to think about before buying one, and offers a selection of suitable products for sale to those who need them to fight Class A fires.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing – especially when it comes to fire hoses.

On the face of it, water puts out fires, a fire hose delivers plenty of water, and fire fighters use them to put out fires, so a fire hose would appear to be perfect for every commercial and industrial building, right? Wrong. And here’s why:

  • Water does put out fires – of a particular type
  • Fire fighters do use fire hoses – in the right circumstances
  • Fire hoses do deliver plenty of water – but it could be too much
Let’s analyse these statements:

Firstly, water should never be used to put out fires where there is a lot of live electrical equipment, or where burning liquids are involved. Here’s why:
  • Water and electricity don’t mix: bringing one into contact with the other will no doubt short the lights and plunge you into darkness, making matters worse than they already are.
  • Water and burning liquids don’t mix. For example, burning oil, in a chip pan fire, floats on water so putting water on it in an attempt to put it out will allow the burning liquid to spread, and will actually make the fire worse.
  • Too much water: unlike a fire extinguisher, a fire hose is connected to the mains water supply, and will never run out of water. As a result, untrained people fighting fires with a fire hose reel tend to stay at the scene too long, trying in vain to put a fire out.

When a fire breaks out, the last thing anyone needs to be is a hero, and staying too long in a burning building puts your life at risk. Remember that, as long as it burns, a fire is probably pumping out smoke you can see and smell, and toxic fumes that you can’t. If it’s not under control in a matter of a couple of minutes, get out, and leave the fire fighting to the experts.

When a fire hose reel is the wrong solution

Don’t have a fire hose reel available where it could be used on electrical equipment or burning liquids of any kind – safer solutions exist, which you can learn about on our fire and safety advice centre.

Don’t have a fire hose reel available for untrained people to use – they could easily put their lives in danger.

When a fire hose reel is the right solution

Any area where there could be Class A fires, which involve quantities of ‘ordinary’ combustible materials, such as timber, paper, cardboard or fabric, with the combination of people having the right training.

What are the features of a fire hose reel?

Fire hose reels come in standard lengths of 30 metres, and a diameter of 19mm. They deliver at least a third of a litre of water a second.

They fall into two broad categories – manual and automatic. With a manual fire hose reel the water supply must be turned on and off using a tap; with an automatic hose reel pulling the hose off the reel, usually for less than two full turns, will turn the water on.

Both types can be fixed or swinging. With the swinging type, the reel can be aligned automatically in the direction it’s being pulled out, which can make deployment marginally faster.

Control nozzles are fitted to allow the water to be directed as accurately as possible, and to control the volume of flow. All fire hose reels sold by the Fire and Safety Centre are fitted with a ball valve shut-off device, a hose reel nozzle, and a mounting bracket. Hose reels are available with or without hoses already attached. Whichever one you choose, it should be Kitemarked to BS EN 671-1:1995.

What’s missing?

The fire hose reel in our picture is a manual one (see the tap in the top left corner of the cabinet?), and it’s a swinging one, mounted at the left. But look to the left of the cabinet: there’s a fire extinguisher sign above it, which means there should be a fire extinguisher on the bracket at the bottom… The hose reel sign will be on the outside of the cabinet door.

And finally…

Anywhere that water can accumulate and remain undisturbed for long periods is in danger of becoming a home for Legionella bacteria, and will need to be treated accordingly.