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The Types of Fire Extinguishers Explained

In the event of a fire, having the right knowledge and tools can make all the difference. That's where fire extinguishers come in. Understanding the different types of fire extinguishers and their uses is essential for effective fire safety. In this blog post, we will explore the various types of fire extinguishers, their unique characteristics, and when to use them. Whether it's a Class A fire, a cooking oil fire, or an electrical fire, we'll provide you with the knowledge you need to choose the right extinguisher and protect yourself and your surroundings from the devastating effects of fire.

Why are there different types of fire extinguishers

There are several types of fire extinguishers because different types of fire require different suppression methods. Each type of fire has unique characteristics, and using the wrong extinguishing agent can be ineffective. In some cases, such as using a water-based extinguisher on an electrical fire, using the incorrect extinguisher can be dangerous. Fires are classified (e.g. Class A, B, C, D, F, and electrical fires) based on the type of fuel involved. Each class requires a specific type of extinguishing agent to combat the fire effectively.

Fire Classifications

Below we have listed the different fire classifications. Having the correct fire extinguisher for each fire is important and we will address which extinguishers should be used for each fire later in this guide. However, it is better to prevent the fire altogether so we have provided some general guidance on reducing the risks for each classification of fire.

Class A Fires

Ordinary combustible materials (e.g. wood, paper, textiles)

Class A fires are the most common and can occur in residential, commercial, and industrial settings. To avoid Class A fires, ensure proper storage and disposal of flammable materials. Use caution with open flames and smoking, and regularly maintain heating and electrical systems.

Class B Fires

Flammable liquids (e.g. petrol, oil, grease)

These fires most commonly occur in kitchens, garages, workshops, and industrial sites. Prevent Class B fires by storing flammable liquids in approved containers, avoiding spills, and maintaining proper ventilation. Use caution when handling and storing flammable liquids, and keep them away from ignition sources.

Class C Fires

Flammable gases (e.g. propane, butane, natural gas)

Class C fires can happen in areas with gas pipes, propane tanks, or fuel storage. Avoid these fires by ensuring proper installation and maintenance of gas systems. Regularly inspect gas lines, fittings, and appliances and promptly fix any leaks or issues.

Class D Fires

Combustible metals (e.g. magnesium, titanium, sodium)

Class D fires are less common as they require very high temperatures to ignite. However, small deposits of metal shavings can pose a risk. This means industries which involve metalwork are at the highest risk. Prevent these fires by implementing proper combustible metal storage and handling. Thorough disposal procedures are also essential. You should clean worksurfaces and machinery regularly to prevent flammable metals from piling up.

Electrical Fires

Fires involving electrical equipment

Electrical fires can happen in homes, offices, and industrial settings. Prevent electrical fires by using proper electrical wiring and equipment, avoiding overloaded circuits, and promptly addressing electrical issues like frayed wires or damaged outlets. Regularly inspect and maintain electrical systems, and use surge protectors as needed.

Class F: Cooking oils and fats

Class F fires are most common in commercial kitchens and are a leading cause of accidental residential fires. Cooking oil fires are particularly dangerous as they can spread quickly. Prevent these fires by practising safe cooking techniques, such as not leaving cooking unattended and keeping flammable materials away from heat sources. Regularly clean cooking equipment and exhaust systems to reduce grease build-up.

Types of fire extinguishers

Water fire extinguisher

Water fire extinguishers contain water and work by cooling the fire and removing heat. They are commonly used for suppressing fires involving solid combustible materials like wood, paper, textiles, and plastics.

Foam fire extinguisher

Foam fire extinguishers contain a foam-forming agent that suppresses fires by forming a barrier, preventing re-ignition. They are effective for fires involving solid combustible materials (Class A) and flammable liquids (Class B).

Carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguisher

CO2 fire extinguishers contain carbon dioxide gas under pressure. They are suitable for suppressing fires involving flammable liquids (Class B) and electrical fires. CO2 displaces oxygen, extinguishing the fire without leaving residue or damaging electrical equipment.

Dry powder fire extinguisher

Dry powder fire extinguishers contain fine powder and are effective against fires involving solid combustible materials (Class A), flammable liquids (Class B), flammable gases (Class C), and electrical fires. The powder interrupts the chemical reaction of the fire.

Wet chemical fire extinguisher

Wet chemical fire extinguishers contain a special agent that reacts with cooking oils and fats to form a soapy layer, cooling the fire and preventing re-ignition. They are specifically designed for fires in commercial kitchens involving cooking oils and fats (Class F).

Water mist fire extinguisher

Water mist fire extinguishers discharge a fine spray of de-ionized water, which cools the fire and forms a mist that suppresses it. They can be used for Class A, F, and electrical fires.

Clean agent fire extinguisher

Clean agent fire extinguishers use non-conductive and non-corrosive gases to suppress fires by displacing oxygen and interrupting the chemical reaction. They are effective for Class B and C fires. Clean agent extinguishers do not leave residue nor conduct electricity, meaning they are also useful for extinguishing electrical fires. Clean agent extinguishers are suitable for a range of environments, including offices, server rooms, laboratories, and electronic equipment areas. As clean agent fire extinguishers leave no residue, they are ideal for protecting valuable and sensitive equipment.

How to identify fire extinguisher type

In an emergency, it's vital that you can quickly identify the appropriate fire extinguisher for the situation. In the past, the entire body of the extinguisher was painted in a specific colour to indicate its purpose. However, the current standard, BS EN3 part 5, introduced a new approach. Now, fire extinguishers are predominantly Signal Red in colour, and they feature a band of colour positioned above the instructions to indicate their designated use. The band colours associated with each type of extinguisher are as follows:

  • Water Fire Extinguishers - Red

  • Foam Fire Extinguishers - Cream

  • CO2 Gas Fire Extinguishers - Black

  • Dry Powder - Blue

  • Wet Chemical Fire Extinguishers - Yellow

  • Water Mist Fire Extinguishers - White and Red

  • Clean Agent Fire extinguishers - Green

Fire extinguishers regulations

The legislation that covers fire extinguishers in the UK is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. This legislation outlines the legal requirements and responsibilities for fire safety in non-domestic premises and common areas of residential premises. It requires that appropriate fire extinguishers are provided, maintained, and accessible in accordance with the specific needs and risks of the premises. The legislation also mandates regular inspections, testing, and maintenance of fire extinguishers to ensure their effectiveness. Compliance with this legislation is essential to ensure the safety of occupants and meet the legal obligations for fire safety in the UK.

How many fire extinguishers does a property need?

The minimum required number of fire extinguishers for a business premises is two per floor. Each business premises must have at least two extinguishers per floor which are suitable for Class A fires.

What fire extinguishers does a property need?

Alongside the minimum requirement of two Class A extinguishers per floor, businesses that use electrical equipment should also have CO2 extinguishers. Properties with a risk of gas fires will need dry powder extinguishers. If your property includes a deep fat fryer, it is necessary to have a wet chemical fire extinguisher.

Where should fire extinguishers be stored?

According to UK British Standards (BS5306), it is required that you are within a maximum distance of 30 meters from the appropriate fire extinguisher on each level of the premises. Typically, Class A and CO2 extinguishers are positioned near exits and fire alarm call points. Other extinguisher types should be easily accessible and located close to specific hazards. For instance, wet chemical extinguishers should be within reach of deep-fat fryers. Regulations mandate that fire extinguishers are securely attached to stands or fixed to walls. They should also be accompanied by identification signs that indicate the type of extinguisher and provide instructions on how to use them.

How often should fire extinguishers be inspected?

Water, foam, and powder fire extinguishers are subjected to discharge testing, refill, or replacement every five years. CO2 extinguishers undergo hydraulic testing every ten years or are replaced accordingly. Any fire extinguisher that is damaged or discharged should be promptly replaced.

Fire extinguishers must be serviced annually by a certified individual with the appropriate BAFE qualifications or equivalent credentials.

Fire extinguisher frequently asked questions

How do I choose the right fire extinguisher for my premises?

To choose the right fire extinguisher:

  1. Consider the types of potential fires in your premises.

  2. Match the fire extinguisher's class with the likely fire hazards.

  3. Consider the size and location of the area, as well as any specific requirements or regulations.

Can I use one type of fire extinguisher for all types of fires?

No, different types of fires require specific fire extinguishers. Using the wrong type can be ineffective or even dangerous. It's essential to select the appropriate fire extinguisher for the specific class of fire you may encounter.

How often should fire extinguishers be inspected?

Fire extinguishers should be inspected regularly according to local fire safety regulations. Typically, professional inspections are recommended annually, but visual inspections can be performed monthly to ensure the extinguisher is in good condition.

Can I use a fire extinguisher on an electrical fire?

Yes, certain fire extinguishers, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) or clean agent extinguishers, are safe to use on electrical fires. These extinguishers are non-conductive and designed specifically for electrical equipment. Water extinguishers and other unsuitable extinguisher types should not be used near electrical appliances, even if they would be suitable for extinguishing the burning material under normal circumstances. The fire classification changes if the appliances are removed from the fire.

Are fire extinguishers easy to use?

Fire extinguishers are designed to be user-friendly. Most extinguishers have clear operating instructions and simple mechanisms, such as a pin to remove and a lever to squeeze. However, it is crucial to receive proper training on fire extinguisher usage to ensure effective and safe operation.

How long do fire extinguishers last?

Fire extinguishers have an average lifespan of 5 to 15 years, depending on the type and manufacturer. However, they should be visually inspected regularly and serviced as required to ensure they are in good working condition.

Speak with a fire safety expert

Fire extinguishers are fantastic, and understanding which to use in which situations is vital to your safety. However, we hope you never need to use them. Reduce your risks with preventive and passive fire protection. Our fire safety experts provide a range of services to protect you, including fire risk assessments, fire door and fire alarm installations, and much more. Get in touch to learn more about fire safety and how we can help you.

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