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Understanding the Types of Fire Extinguishers

It’s important to choose the correct fire extinguishers so that in an emergency, you have a fire safety device that you can rely on to extinguish the fire. It’s also important that you keep them in good working order so that they perform when you need them. Confused?Businesses should have performed a fire assessment so that you can be fairly confident of what kind of fire you could be facing. This will enable you to choose the correct fire extinguisher for the fire, such as class A, B or C fires.

Automatic fire extinguishers

These fire extinguishers are ideal for spaces that are left unsupervised. Once the extinguisher reaches a certain temperature, it will start to spray automatically. There are different types of automatic fire extinguishers available for the various classifications of fire including, class A, B and C fires.

CO2 fire extinguishers

When activated, CO2 extinguishers release clouds of carbon dioxide that will extinguish a fire by displacing the oxygen – remember that a fire needs the three elements to ignite and continue burning – heat, fuel and oxygen. When storing these fire extinguishers, make sure that they are kept away from direct sunlight and heat sources as their contents are highly pressurised. Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are suitable for class B fires, which are fuelled by flammable liquids (not cooking oils, though). They are also suitable for combating electrical fires. Carbon dioxide extinguishers are especially useful for fighting office fires because they can be used on computers. They should not be used for the likes of a chip-pan fire as they contain a strong jet that will simply push the burning contents out of the pan and out into the room. However, while these fire extinguishers will extinguish the fire, they don’t have a cooling effect on the materials that have fuelled the fire so it could re-ignite. To avoid this, the source of the fire must be eradicated as soon as the flames have been put out.

Foam fire extinguishers

Foam fire extinguishers are often found in the home and office. These are popular fire extinguishers because they can extinguish both class A and class B fires – that is, paper, woods and cloth, plus flammable liquids. The extinguisher works by blanketing the fire in a layer of foam that both starves the fire of its oxygen and cools down the fuel source. Foam extinguishers should not be used on electrical fires as there is a possibility that the user could receive an electric shock. As a safety precaution, many foam fire extinguishers are fitted with an extra safety device that may prevent a shock from occurring if it were accidentally used to extinguish an electrical fire. It’s always advisable to use the appropriate fire extinguisher for the type of fire that has started.

Powder fire extinguishers

The great thing about a powder fire extinguisher is that it is capable of dealing with most types of fire, including class A, B and C. This makes it suitable for fires fuelled by wood, paper, liquids and gases. These extinguishers should not be used in a confined space as the vapours can cause damage if inhaled. It’s also worth noting that the powder can cause damage to soft furnishings.

Water fire extinguishers

Water fire extinguishers are great for tackling class A fires that are fuelled by woods, papers, cloth and such materials. They are the most affordable to buy, and don’t cause much mess. They would not prove effective on other types of fire, which limits their capability, and they should not be used around electrical equipment or exposed cables.

Wet chemical fire extinguishers

This type of fire extinguisher is the one to use when tackling class F fires, which are fuelled by oils, cooking fats and electrical devices. A wet chemical fire extinguisher operates by dispensing a chemical substance onto the fire, which creates a film and seals in the burning oil. These extinguishers are usually found in commercial kitchens and dormitories.

Make sure it’s safe

When selecting a fire extinguisher, make sure that it conforms to British Safety Standards. It’s also a good idea to look for approval of other governing bodies; some extinguishers will be Kitemarked and CE approved, too.

Regularly maintain them

You should invest in a fire log book, and record all maintenance checks for your own records. Businesses are legally required to have fire extinguishers checked on an annual basis. Monthly, a member of your internal team should complete a monthly test. Most extinguishers will also need a discharge test or extended service check every five years to ensure they’ll function in the event of a fire. This may mean discharging and refilling them.

Storing your fire extinguisher

Make sure that fire extinguishers are placed in a suitable location where they can be accessed easily if a fire were to start. Fire extinguishers should be raised and secure above ground level so that children cannot tamper with them, and never place them near a source of heat. It’s also a legal requirement that fire extinguishers are accompanied with a fire extinguisher sign or notice. This will let visitors help distinguish the type of extinguisher it is, and alert you if one is missing.

Using your fire extinguisher safely

Most fire extinguishers have a safety pin that must be removed prior to use. Make sure that the people in the relevant location have read the instructions on the extinguisher so that they are familiar with its operating instructions – you won’t have time to do it after the fire has started. Never try to be a hero! Before you try to tackle a fire, assess the situation. If it’s a small fire then you may be able to extinguish it with a fire extinguisher, but if the fire has already taken hold, let the trained fire fighters deal with it. Make sure that all the occupants are safely out of the building – pets too if you can. Don’t try to tackle a fire on your own unless you have no alternative. If you can, call the fire brigade so that help is on its way. Types of Fire Extinguishers If you think that the fire may be toxic, don’t try to tackle it. Leave it to the fire and rescue service as you could easily be overcome by the fumes. When using the fire extinguisher, always keep an eye on your escape route. Make sure that you can still access an exit so that you can flee if the fire hasn’t subsided. Make sure that you’re at a safe distance from the fire, because the flames sometimes flare up when you’re extinguishing it. The fire extinguisher should be aimed at the base of the fire to target its source. Aim the fire extinguisher and then sweep it from side to side. If this isn’t having any effect, get out of the building. You should also retreat if the room is filling up with smoke. If you have successfully extinguished the fire, ensure that there’s no chance it could re-ignite. Remove any source of fuel or ignition from the area.

Different fire classifications

Using the wrong fire extinguisher on a fire could make the situation worse.
  • Class A fires. These fires involve ordinary combustibles, such as paper, wood, cloth, rubber and plastics.
  • Class B fires. These involve flammable liquids – petrol, oil, greases and paints.
  • Class C fires. These are fires that involve flammable gases like propane and hydrogen.
  • Class D fires. These fires involve metals.
  • Class E Fires. These are fires that involve electrical apparatus.
  • Class F Fires. These involve cooking oils and fats.
Photo credit: Guudmorning! & Velovotee via photopin cc
  • Written by: Donna July

    The most common fire extinguishers that are commonly seen on establishments are the Red ones which contain dry chemicals and the Green ones which contain HCFC. Thes two fire extinguishers can address almost all classes of fires which is why these are commonly used. As for the blog, I found it to be very informative and useful. It is written in such a way that is easy to understand. Thanks a lot for sharing.

  • Written by: Buckeroo

    Donna July – which country are you in? Green extinguishers in the UK contained Halon 1211 which is not a HCFC and has been illegal in the UK since 2003.

    Also whilst dry powder extinguishers are very common in the US & similar they are not as common in the UK and the latest British Standard recommends avoiding the use of powder extinguishers for most indoor risks

    • Written by: Admin - Island Fire Protection

      Hi Donna,

      We are in the UK.

      You’re absolutely right that it’s better to avoid using dry powder extinguishers in confined, indoor spaces with poor ventilation.

      However, dry powder extinguishers are still common in the UK – legally all commercial vehicles must have one. They’re the only type of extinguisher that can be used on vehicles. Automatic dry powder extinguishers are also a popular choice for boat owners; caravan owners; and people with engine, mechanical or server rooms.

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