Pyrene fire extinguishers
Pyrene fire extinguishers are fire extinguishers manufactured by the Pyrene Company from 1914.
Background and Description
A Scottish engineer set established the Pyrene Company of Delaware in 1909. In 1914, American businessman Wallace B Phillips set up the British offshoot, The Pyrene Company Limited, in London. They began selling ‘pump’ extinguishers. By 1920 the business had a factory to manufacture soda-acid and foam fire extinguishers. In 1924, the London General Omnibus Company granted Pyrene the contract to supply all its vehicles with pump fire extinguishers.
Pyrene pioneered the use of Carbon Tetrachloride or CTC, using a hand pump to expel the liquid onto the fire. The extinguishers were not pressurised, so could be re-filled when low or empty with fire extinguishing liquid. Unbeknownst to them at the time, CTC vapour is highly toxic and potentially more hazardous than the fire it was meant to put out.
Pyrene Phomene installations were fitted to many ships throughout the 1930s. During WWII, the demand for fire-fighting equipment was high, and Pyrene were contracted to supply many companies and institutions. A factory was opened in South Wales in 1950 specifically for the manufacture of fire extinguishers. Their logo read: Pyrene, kills fire, saves life. Later, it read ‘Pyrene, fire equipment for every hazard’. They supplied countries with fire extinguishers all over the western world.
In 1955, the FB5X foam making branch pipe was introduced. Pyrene operated until 1971. In the 1960s and 70s, as it became apparent how deadly CTC was, all the old extinguishers were removed from service.
The very earliest fire extinguishers were available in different materials, including enameled metal, brass, or nickel plated. During WWII, copper became scarce and brass was generally used. The 1916 patent saw various types of extinguisher on offer, including the air craft type, foam type, 1 gallon pressure type, and original non-freezing. Later, ‘Pyrene Junior’ fire extinguishers developed for cars, boats and bikes, a quart-gallon hand-held option, as well as a soda and acid type extinguisher.
The plate on the front states the Pyrene logo, plus extensive information and instructions.
Collecting Pyrene fire extinguishers
Many collectors of vintage Pyrene fire extinguishers are collectors of classic cars. Pyrene extinguishers were fitted to most commercial vehicles between the 1920s and 60s, and many perceive that installing one in their classic car adds authenticity. Others may just like them in their homes as ornaments.
To a certain extent, it is possible to date your Pyrene fire extinguisher depending on certain characteristics of the design, as seen in old Pyrene adverts. Patent dates can be misleading when looking at exact dates of manufacture.
Collectors and sellers of Pyrene fire extinguishers often clean and polish the brass, and the extinguishers can finish up looking quite new.
Carbon Tetrachloride is now known to be carcinogenic and highly dangerous. Extinguishers must be emptied of this liquid by a professional before they can be kept as antique and vintage items.
The older Pyrenes, produced before 1950, are more valuable and sought-after, particularly World War II items. Some will state that they are made in the UK, others in America. The Pyrene Company in Newark, New Jersey made an extinguisher known as the ‘Fastfoam’.
They often come up for auction on eBay, though they can be found through WWII surplus stores.
Pyrene conducted shocking and scaremonger advertisement campaigns to sell their fire extinguishers, the likes of which include adverts describing: ‘After they’re gone, when you are all alone and the memory that weighs upon the heart returns, the knowledge of what might have been prevented by a Pyrene Fire Extinguisher tortures you’. Thus Pyrene advertisements are distinctive, and collectible in their own right.
Pyrene fire extinguishers tend to sell for wildly different prices, and it is not always clear why. They can sell for between $10 and $230. Sometimes at the top end are unpolished, unrestored extinguishers in their original condition, sometimes polished, cleaned, even re-touched or painted options. It must depend who is looking to buy at a particular time, and what exactly they are looking for. If they want a ready-made ornament for a classic car, they may prefer an example that has been restored by a previous owner. Others may want the real, unadulterated article. This means it is worth being savvy when looking for an item. Focusing on the lower priced end does not necessarily mean lower quality extinguishers.