Different Types of Fire Extinguisher Explained

Fire extinguishers can be very useful tools for bringing fire under control in its early stages, but it is very important to make sure you use the correct type. Using the wrong type of fire extinguisher can be very dangerous, resulting in serious injury and risk potentially making the fire worse. Some extinguishers are more suited to some environments than others, it is important to assess which type is the most appropriate for your business. This is best taken care of by professional fire protection specialists, who can survey your premises and provide you with a complete site survey – to ensure you have the most suitable types of fire extinguishers installed.

Five Types of Fire Extinguisher

All fire extinguishers in the UK have clear colour co-ordinated labelling, located towards the top of the extinguisher. To ensure your safety you should familiarise yourself with the five different colour co-ordinated types:

  • Water – Red
  • Powder – Blue
  • Foam – Cream
  • CO2 - Black
  • Wet Chemical – Yellow

Water – Red

Water fire extinguishers are commonplace in offices, shops and warehouses. They are ideal for tackling fires that are burning freely – involving paper, wood, textiles and other solid materials. However under no circumstances should water fire extinguishers be used on fires involving electrical equipment, as water conducts electricity potentially causing the operator an electric shock. These extinguishers are also unsuitable for fires involving flammable liquids, gases and cooking oil fires in the kitchen.

Dry Powder & Dry Special Powder – Blue

Powder fire extinguishers are fairly versatile and suitable for use against a variety of different types of fires. The powder inside the extinguisher prevents the chemical reactions happening that occur inside the fire, to stop it from spreading. When using, it is important to avoid inhaling any of the powder, therefore powder extinguishers are not recommended for use in small spaces such as offices.

These extinguishers can be used on wood, paper, textiles, liquid and electrical fires, so are useful for environments with the risk of several different types of fire, such as those involving chemicals or vehicles. However it’s important to note, powder fire extinguishers should not be used on fires in the kitchen and fires involving flammable metals for example aluminium and magnesium. Some special powder extinguishers are suitable for use on flammable metals, although you should always check the labelling on the extinguisher carefully before use.

Foam – Cream

Foam fire extinguishers are also suitable for different types of fires and are recommended for use particularly in factories, petrol stations and hotels. The foam produced is used to smother the fire and starve it of oxygen, thus extinguishing the flames. These are ideal for use on wood, paper, textiles and liquid fires. Although they are safe to use on electrical equipment it will cause considerable irreversible damage to the appliances. They are also unsuitable for use on flammable gases and cooking fires with oil and grease in the kitchen.

CO2 – Black

Carbon Dioxide fire extinguishers are probably the type with the highest risk associated to the operator if used incorrectly, so caution is recommended. Their improper use can result in cold burns, particularly if skin comes into prolonged contact with the horn of the extinguisher, therefore the user should avoid holding the extinguisher by the horn. They also reduce the oxygen supply in the room, which although helps to put out the fire can make it harder to breathe if used in a confined space.

Also as Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas, they are also the most environmentally un-friendly fire extinguisher – although much less harmful to the planet than Halon fire extinguishers which were withdrawn from general use in 2000, though they can still be found in some uses such as aviation.

CO2 fire extinguishers are suitable for use on electrical fires and flammable liquids including petrol, although ineffective against fires which involve wood, paper, textiles, flammable gases and cooking fires. They are best recommended for use in offices, shops, schools and other indoor environments, where there is electrical equipment present.

Wet Chemical – Yellow

Wet chemical fire extinguishers are also potentially hazardous to the user, as they can produce toxic fumes which can linger for a while, even after the fire has been put out. So after using indoors, you should open windows and doors if possible to make sure the area is well ventilated.

The chemical spray released by the extinguisher works by starting a chemical reaction that combines the discharge with the cooking fat or oil, to form a cake of soap like emulsion which cools the fire. These extinguishers are probably the type best suited to fires in the kitchen and are essential for restaurants. They are also suitable for fighting fires involving wood, paper and textiles although not suited for use on flammable liquids, gases and metals.

Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers

All fire extinguishers should be serviced annually from the date of installation, to ensure they are in good working order, filled up and safe to use. It is extremely important that fire extinguishers are maintained, as they can potentially be dangerous if not looked after properly.

You should make sure that your fire extinguishers are regularly checked by specialists, our fully trained Euro Fire Protection engineers are registered under the BAFE extinguisher technician scheme and offer complete fire extinguisher maintenance, to give you peace of mind that in the event of a fire, your first line of defence is protected.

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