Fire extinguishers can be a vital tool in the unfortunate event of a fire.
Not only can they save a business or home but can also save lives and minimise the chance of risk to those involved.
Different fire extinguishers are more effective with different fire classes, some may even cause more harm if used on the wrong type of fire.
It is important to know and understand each extinguisher’s different uses as using the wrong type of fire extinguisher could be fatal.
Before understanding how and when to use each fire extinguisher it is important to have knowledge about each class of fire.
The different classes of fire are:
Class A – Normal combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth or plastic
Class B – Flammable liquids such as petrol, Kerosene or paint
Class C – Combustible gases such as LPG gas or natural gas
Class D – Flammable metals such as magnesium or aluminium
Class E – Electrically energised equipment such as short-circuited machinery or overloaded electrical cables.
Class F – Cooking oils such as vegetable oil, fats and lard.
For an easy to understand chart of the classes of fire please refer to this QFES Information sheet.
The three key elements a fire requires to flourish are heat, fuel and oxygen, all fire extinguishers work by removing one or more of these 3 key elements.
Please refer to the fire combustion triangle for a clear understanding of the combustion process.
An easy way to determine which fire extinguisher to use is by the different coloured bands on the top of each cylinder.
This band tells us what type of fire extinguisher it is therefore allowing us to recognise which fire to use it for.
Dry chemical fire extinguisher
Dry chemical fire extinguishers or other wise known as ABE or BE are the most popular type of extinguisher in Australia.
They have the ability to extinguish multiple classes of fire and are commonly installed in homes, offices and factories.
A dry chemical fire extinguisher is identified by its all red cylinder and white band that runs around the top of the tank.
There are two types of dry chemical fire extinguishers in Australia:
ABE fire extinguishers
Due to their extremely wide variety of uses, the ABE dry chemical powder extinguisher is by far the most used extinguisher in Australia.
It can be used to extinguish class A, B and E fires, this means that an ABE fire extinguisher can be used for all different fires typically involving wood, paper, petrol or electrical cables.
Each ABE fire extinguisher contains a chemical powder called monoammonium phosphate which extinguishes the fire when it spreads and melts over the flames.
It is important to know that the use of a powder fire extinguisher in a small space indoors can cause poor visibility so personal judgement needs to be made and the size of the area needs to be considered.
In the case of a class B fire the solution blocks the vapour from escaping and puts the fire out.
BE fire extinguishers
BE fire extinguishers are not as common as ABE. These fire extinguishers are used to extinguish class B and E fires or in other words fires involving petrol, diesel and overloaded electrical circuits.
BE fire extinguishers usually contain sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate which smothers the fire and extinguishes it.
For more information on dry chemical fire extinguishers please refer to our detailed post.
Carbon dioxide fire extinguisher
They are easily identified by the black band running around the top of the red cylinder.
CO2 fire extinguishers contain a non-conductive and non-corrosive extinguishing agent therefore will cause no damage to electrical equipment.
This type of fire extinguisher is the perfect extinguisher for areas such as electrical switch rooms, server/data rooms, electrical machinery and offices.
Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers operate by removing oxygen from the fire and replacing it with its extinguishing agent.
As oxygen is being diminished it is important to be aware that within small spaces too much oxygen could be removed therefore creating a dangerous environment for the user.
Please refer to our detailed article for more information on CO2 fire extinguishers.
Foam fire extinguishers
Foam fire extinguishers can also be referred to as AFFF extinguishers due to the aqueous film foaming foam that it propels.
These fire extinguishers are used for class A and class B fires which can contain wood, paper, plastic, petrol or paint.
It is easy to identify a foam fire extinguisher by the blue band that runs around the top of the all red cylinder.
When a foam fire extinguisher is used to put out a fire it removes the element of oxygen by smothering the fire as well as creating a cooling effect and reducing the likelihood of the fire reuniting.
Foam fire extinguishers are generally used within warehouse’s, petrol stations and storage facilities and are not recommended for use on class F fires (fires involving cooking oils and fats).
You will find more information on foam fire extinguishers in detail here.
Wet chemical fire extinguisher
Wet chemical fire extinguishers are used for class A and class F fires which mean they can be used on fires containing wood, plastic, paper and cooking oils/fats etc.
They are the only type of fire extinguishers recommended for use on these classes of fires.
You can easily recognise a wet chemical fire extinguisher by the oatmeal coloured band running around the top of the all red cylinder.
It is highly recommended that they be installed within commercial kitchens.
Wet chemical fire extinguishers contain a solution of potassium, this solution smothers the fire and removes the element of heat.
It is highly important that a wet chemical fire extinguisher is never used on a class E fire (fire containing electrical equipment.
Please refer to our detailed post for more information on wet chemical fire extinguishers.
Water fire extinguisher
Water fire extinguishers are the commonly used both domestically and commercially and are recommended for use on class A fires i.e. fires involving wood, plastic, paper etc
This extinguisher can be identified by its all red cylinder with no distinctive coloured band.
It is recommended to use a water fire extinguisher within environments such as warehouses and storage facilities and can also be beneficial within a home setting such us within a living room or a bedroom.
As advised above with the wet chemical fire extinguisher it is important to understand that a water fire extinguisher should never be used on a class E fire (fires involving electrical equipment) as it could potentially put the user at risk of electrocution.
To learn more about water fire extinguishers please refer to this informative guide.
How to use a fire extinguisher
All fire extinguishers in Australia require the PASS technique to operate
The PASS technique is as follows…
- Pull the pin.
- Aim it at the fire.
- Squeeze the handle.
- Sweep from side to side.
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- It is imperative that you choose the correct fire extinguisher for your home or workplace as using an incorrect extinguisher could not only be ineffective, but dangerous, and even fatal when used on a fire with a different rating/class.
- It is important to have every fire extinguisher correctly installed. Learn how to install a fire extinguisher and ensure you are well equipped in case of fire.
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