Fire extinguishers are available in many sizes and with different contents suitable for putting out different types of fire. Unfortunately no single fire extinguisher is completely effective against all kinds of fire you may be faced with. Before purchasing a fire extinguisher it’s important to understand the types of fire it can be used on.
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There are four key types of fire extinguisher available;
- Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher
- Foam Fire Extinguisher
- Water Fire Extinguisher
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Fire Extinguisher
Before detailing the uses or each type of extinguisher it’s important to explain how fires are categorised in the UK. Fire extinguishers are classified using a letter system which denotes the types of fire they are suitable for.
Class A - Ordinary combustibles including paper, wood, fabric and most kinds of trash.
Class B - Flammable liquids such as petrol.
Class C - Flammable gasses including butane and propane.
Class D - Burning metals such as aluminium and magnesium.
Class E - Electrical equipment.
Class F - Cooking oils and fats.
The types of fire extinguisher you choose will depend on the type of activity undertaken by your business and the facilities you have available in your work place. An overview of the four types of extinguishers is detailed below, for further information we suggest visiting the Fire Service website.
Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher - Are suitable for class A, B and C fires. They have a good general fire fighting capability but the powder does not soak into the materials and has a limited cooling effect so there is a chance the fire can reignite. The powder produced by this type of extinguishers should not be inhaled as it is harmful to humans; it is therefore recommended not to use dry powder in small confided spaces. In fact the British standard does not permit the use of dry powder in office or living space any more.
Foam Fire Extinguisher - The foam produced smoothers the fire starving it of oxygen and therefore putting it out. It also penetrates porous material thereby cooling surfaces and helping prevent the fire reigniting. Foam extinguishers are suitable for class A, B and F class fires. The foam produced is also relatively easy to clean up which is a big advantage compared with dry powder extinguishers where the powder causes considerable damage to most items it comes into contact with.
Water Fire Extinguisher - Are suitable for class A fires involving burning paper, wood and soft furnishings. The water soaks into the surfaces providing a cooling effect as well as extinguishing the fire. There are no harmful chemicals in this type of extinguishers so clean up after use is easier than with dry powder. They have a low fire fighting rating so to overcome their lack of performance they are generally fairly large.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Fire Extinguisher -Contain only pressurised CO2 so when deployed leave no residue. CO2 extinguishers are suitable for class B fires involving liquids such as petrol and also class E fires involving electrical items. The lack of residue means they do not cause electrical items damage as water or foam extinguishers would. The drawback to CO2 is that although effective at putting out the initial fire it has no long term cooling properties, therefore the fire could reignite. CO2 extinguishers are not suitable for tackling deep fat fryers as the jet of air spreads the fat onto other surfaces thereby spreading the fie.