We’ve all become accustomed to seeing the instantly-recognisable bright red fire extinguisher, dotted around buildings awaiting their turn to save the day. But what many people don’t know is that, despite looking the same, fire extinguishers are actually quite different, with different contents best-suited for tackling different kinds of fire.
There’s science behind this, of course: fires can involve varying types of materials, such as metals, gases or petrol, and it’s possible to make fires worse by introducing the wrong extinguisher. For example, using a water-based fire extinguisher on an electrical fire is asking for trouble, but a carbon dioxide extinguisher can tackle the job with ease.
Because your employees’ safety is at risk when there’s a fire – and their safety is your responsibility – it pays to know what kind of fire extinguishers work most effectively with which kind of fires. This is also the perfect opportunity to ensure you have the right kind of extinguisher in your workplace to suit potential fire hazards.
What Types of Fire Are There?
First things first, there are six types of fire, broken down into classes. They are:
Class A: Fires involving combustible materials such as wood, paper, fabric and refuse. These are the most straightforward to supress.
Class B: Fires involving flammable liquids, and which require inhibition of chemical chain reactions in order to be extinguished.
Class C: Like Class B, Class C requires a solution which can inhibit chemical chain reactions, as these types of fire involve flammable gasses.
Class D: Fires involving flammable metals, which often require specialist help.
Class F: Fires originating from cooking oils and fats – a common occurrence in kitchens.
Electrical: Formerly Class E, electrical fires have since been declassified but are no less important to remember.
Which Extinguishers Should I Use?
Now that you know the different kinds of fire that you might be dealing with, you’re half-way to being prepared. Some workplaces are more likely to encounter certain fire classes depending on their operations or environment – for example, a Class F fire is more probable in a professional kitchen than an office.
Recognising which fire classes might occur in your workplace will allow you to make an informed decision around which fire extinguisher to buy:
Water: A water-based extinguisher is probably the most common type of extinguisher you’ll come across, and is a cost-effective method of dealing with Class A fires. Water extinguishers come in four varieties: jet, spray, mist, and with additives. All of these extinguishers carry a red label.
Foam: Can be used on Class A and B, making them more versatile than water extinguishers. Foam extinguishers also prevents flammable vapour from entering the air, improving safety whilst firefighting. These extinguishers carry a cream label.
Powder: A multi-purpose extinguisher which can tackle Class A, B and C fires. They can also be used on electrical fires, however there is a risk involved as the powder does not cool the fire – potentially causing re-ignition. This type of extinguisher is not recommended for inside buildings due to loss of vision and breathing problems, and can be identified by a blue label.
Carbon Dioxide: Perfect for areas with a lot of electrical equipment, carbon dioxide extinguishers don’t leave any residue (unlike foam), and can be used on Class B fires too. CO2 extinguishers feature a black label.
Wet Chemical: This type of extinguisher is perfect for Class F fires, and will often be found in the kitchen area. Although designed to cool down cooking oil fires, they can also be used on Class A and B fires. They’re distinguishable by their yellow label.
Of course, if a fire isn’t immediately manageable, don’t put your life or your team’s lives at risk even if you have the right equipment: evacuate the building and call 999 instead. Having this knowledge will, however, help you to put the proper fire safety measures into place, and reassure your employees that their safety is being thought of.
Not sure where to get started with equipping your workplace? D&S Fire Safety are here to keep you safe. We supply, fit and maintain a whole host of fire safety equipment – including fire extinguishers – with all our products checked and certified to British Standard 5306. To find out more, feel free to browse our website. Alternatively, get in touch with us directly and our team will be happy to help.