Impact of Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials

Fire Protection Research Foundation report: “Impact of Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials(PDF) 
Download the executive summary. (PDF)
Author: Emily Williams, Matthew E. Benfer, Joseph L. Scheffey, and Eric W. Forssell
Date of issue: November 2016


A variety of different fire extinguishing agents are utilized in portable extinguishers used in museums, galleries, cultural centers, historic houses and libraries. The agents themselves have been well-researched and their ability to suppress a fire is well-quantified.  What is less well understood is what effect these agents might have on the cultural heritage materials that are exposed to them. 

This overall report is a compilation of two sub-reports addressing this topic, included herein:

  1. QUANTIFICATION: “Quantifying the Impact of Portable Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials Agent and Fire Exposure Test Report”
  2. ASSESSMENT: “Assessing the Impact of Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials” 

The primary goals of this project were to establish a reproducible test protocol that could be used for future testing and that would permit the reporting and assessment of comparable test results by disparate testing entities, and gather information about the responses of a range of selected materials when exposed to the most commonly used portable fire extinguisher agents over both the short and long-terms.

Previous report

Fire Protection Research Foundation report: "Measuring the Impact of Fire Extinguisher Agents on Cultural Resource Materials” (PDF)
Author: Hughes Associates, Inc.
Date of issue: February 2010

Portable fire extinguishers and their associated fire extinguishing agents play an important role in reducing the impact of fire on cultural resource collections. A fire which can be extinguished with a portable extinguisher in its incipient stage will not grow to threaten adjacent materials. While conservators are well versed in the effects of moisture and water on collections, little data is available on the effects of other non-water based extinguishing agents. To fully evaluate the appropriateness of an extinguisher, its extinguishing effectiveness should be compared to the potential collateral damage to collection materials from the agent and its thermal decomposition products. Such contact with collection materials can occur by overspray during firefighting efforts or the direct spraying of collection materials in an act of vandalism.

This project is intended to quantify the impact of discharging portable fire extinguisher agents on cultural resource materials. The results can then be used by the NFPA Technical Committee on Cultural Resources (NFPA 909 and 914) to provide users with guidance on extinguisher selection. Phase I of the project included a comprehensive literature review and the development of prototype specifications and procedures to test the effects of extinguishers. In an anticipated Phase II, the test specifications would be validated and a final test specification produced. The results of Phase I are presented in this report.

The content, opinions and conclusions contained in this report are solely those of the authors.