Different types of fire extinguisher and when to use them

Different Types Of Fire Extinguishers

It would be quite fun to use a fire extinguisher in a safe and controlled environment, wouldn’t it? Just to see what it’s like. Pretend to be Fireman Sam for an hour and put all the different kinds of extinguisher through their paces? Maybe that’s just me...

Anyway, the sad fact is if any of us ever do have to use a fire extinguisher it’s likely to be out of sheer necessity. Probably with a lot of panic going on around us too! That’s why it’s crucial to understand the different types of fire extinguisher out there and, most importantly, which fires they can be used on.

What different Fire Extinguishers are available?

In this blog we’ll tell you all about each different type of fire extinguisher and what materials and fires they’re best suited to tackle.

Classes of Fire

First of all, you need to know that fire comes in a variety of different forms. All can be highly dangerous and, if they aren’t dealt with properly, could cause serious harm.

The six main classes of fire include

  • Class A - 

These are fires caused by combustible materials. ‘Class A’ fires usually involve materials such as paper, textiles or wood.

  • Class B - 

A ‘Class B’ fire evolves from flammable liquids. These often include petrol, diesel, industrial oils or paints.

  • Class C - 

This type of fire, ‘Class C’, involves flammable gases including the likes of methane and butane, amongst a variety of others.

  • Class D - 

These fires are caused by flammable metals. A ‘Class D’ fire can involve metallic substances such as lithium and potassium.

  • Electrical - 

Bizarrely, there isn’t an official ‘Class E’. There are however fires caused by electrical goods. Examples include computers, televisions, radios and kitchen appliances.

  • Class F - 

Fires caused as a result of cooking oils such as deep fat fryers and chip pan fires are known as ‘Class F’.

Different Fire Extinguishers For Different Classes Of Fire

With all these different classes of fire, it would be easy to assume there’s a ‘one-size-fits-all’ extinguisher.

There isn’t.

Using the wrong type of extinguisher could further complicate things and make the situation even more serious, as well as wasting valuable time.

Here are the different types of fire extinguisher and information about the fires they are designed to tackle.

Water Extinguishers

Water extinguishers should only be used on Class A fires. Using this type of extinguisher on electrical goods could make things far worse as water is a conductor.

In-line with BS EN 3 colour codes, water extinguishers are identified with a red label. 

Water Mist Extinguishers

Far more versatile than traditional water extinguishers, water mist extinguishers can be used for a wide range of fires including Class A, B, C, F and Electrical. This is thanks to the water mist/fog not conducting electricity or forming puddles.

In-line with BS EN 3 colour codes, water mist extinguishers are identified with a white and red label.

Foam Extinguishers

Foam extinguishers are most effective on Class A and B fires and some can even be used on electrical fires too. This is thanks to the foam agent itself which prevents re-ignition of the fire.

In-line with BS EN 3 colour codes, foam extinguishers are identified with a cream label above the operating instructions.

Dry Powder Extinguishers

These are versatile extinguishers, safe to use on Class A, B, C and electrical fires. That said, there is a risk of powder inhalation if used inside so it’s highly recommended not to use dry powder extinguishers in small rooms or claustrophobic spaces.

In-line with BS EN 3 colour codes, dry powder extinguishers are identified with a blue label above the operating instructions.

Specialist Powder Extinguishers

These powder based fire extinguishers are specifically for use on Class D fires which makes the ideal choice for fires involving flammable metals.

In-line with BS EN 3 colour codes, specialist powder extinguishers are identified with a blue label above the operating instructions.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguishers

CO2 fire extinguishers are designed for use on Class B fires. Thanks to CO2 not being a conductor or leaving behind any dangerous residue, these extinguishers are also useful for electrical fires too.

In-line with BS EN 3 colour codes, CO2 extinguishers are identified with a black label above the operating instructions.

Wet Chemical Extinguishers

This type of extinguisher is suitable for use on Class F fires, specifically useful for cooking oils and chip pan fires. They are also useful to deal with Class A fires as well.

In-line with BS EN 3 colour codes, wet chemical extinguishers are identified with a yellow label above the operating instructions.

Fire Blankets

Fire blankets can be a great solution if somebody has clothing that’s caught fire. They’re also suitable to use on Class F fires. By throwing a blanket over the fire, the oxygen fuelling the fire is essentially smothered and the fire is extinguished.

Generally fire blankets should be disposed of and replaced following use. It’s also worth noting that if the blanket doesn’t cover the whole fire, it won’t be able to put it out.

In Summary

We hope you’ve found this article useful and now have a better idea about the different types of fire classes, potential threats and the different extinguisher options you may find yourself faced with.

Suffice to say you should absolutely only tackle a fire if you feel confident to do so. Irrelevant of whether you know which extinguisher to use on which class of fire or not. If you aren’t 100% sure of your ability to safely put the fire out, raise the alarm and let the emergency services deal with the situation.

One thing do add is to make sure you have someone within your organisation who is Fire Marshal trained, check out our Fire Marshal Training courses here.

Take our Fire Extinguisher Quiz

Fire Protection Team

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