A Beginner’s Guide to Choosing the Correct Fire Extinguisher

FEsWith proper training and education, Fire Extinguishers can save lives and property.  However, not all Fire Extinguishers are created equal.  Choosing the correct type of Fire Extinguisher for your particular application is very important and will make a huge difference in the event of a fire.

Before we determine which Fire Extinguisher is right for your application and space, we need to look at the different types of fires that exist.

    • Class A fires are made up of ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, paper, trash, rubber, plastics, or anything else that would leave an ash. Water works best to extinguish these.  Tip for easy remembering: Class A leaves an Ash
    • Class B fires are made up of flammable or combustible liquids. This includes oil, tar, gasoline, kerosene, grease, solvents, alcohols, and other similar materials.  Smothering effects which deplete the oxygen supply work best to extinguish these.  Tip for easy remembering: Class B Boils
    • Class C fires are known as energized electrical fires. They involve equipment such as appliances, switches, panel boxes, power tools, hot plates and stirrers.  Don’t use water on these fires! If you do, you’re at risk for electrical shock.  Tip for easy remembering: Class C has Current
    • Class D fires are combustible metal fires. The most common types of flammable metal fires are magnesium, uranium, lithium, calcium, zirconium, sodium, and titanium fires.  Don’t use water on these fires!  If you do, the water will actually energize the fire.  Tip for easy remembering: Class D has Dense material
    • Class K fires are fires in cooking appliances that involve combustible cooking media such as vegetable or animal oil and fats.

Based on the information above, which type of Fire is your space most at risk for?  Pinpoint that, and read on to learn which Fire Extinguisher is most appropriate for your application.

Here are a few of the most common types of Fire Extinguishers:

    • Dry Chemical Extinguishers, today’s most widely used type of Fire Extinguisher, is a multipurpose extinguisher that is effective on Class A, B, and C fires. This agent works by creating a barrier between the oxygen element and the fuel element.
    • Dry Powder Extinguishers are for Class D fires only. They extinguish the fire by crusting, smothering, removing the heat.
    • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguishers are most effective on Class B and C fires. Carbon Dioxide is a colorless, odorless, electrically non-conductive inert gas. When the Carbon Dioxide is released from the extinguisher tank, it removes the oxygen element of the fire and rapidly cools the surrounding air.
    • Clean Agent/Halogenated Extinguishers work to interrupt the chemical reaction of a fire and are primarily used for Class B and C fires. They are electrically non-conducting, volatile, or gaseous fire extinguishers ideal for spaces that hold expensive equipment, data centers, and computer labs because the expelled agent leaves no residue and will not damage the equipment.
    • Wet Chemical/Class K Extinguishers work on the principle of saponification. They were developed for modern, high efficiency deep fat fryers in commercial cooking operations such as Restaurants and Food Trucks. The same agent is also found in Kitchen Hood Suppression Systems.  The wet chemical agent removes the heat of the fire and prevents re-ignition by creating a strong barrier between the oxygen and the fuel (saponification).  Please note that Dry Chemical ABC Fire Extinguishers are not effective with kitchen appliances, as they cannot prevent a re-flash from occurring.  The extreme heat retained from the cooking oils break down the weaker foam layer which can cause a re-flash. However, because commercial kitchens also have Class A material, it is imperative that the space be equipped with the appropriate number of multipurpose Fire Extinguishers.
    • Other Fire Extinguisher types include Water Fire Extinguishers, Film-forming Foam Fire Extinguishers, and Cartridge/Cylinder-Operated Fire Extinguishers (in which the expellant gas is in a separate container from the agent storage container.

After determining what type of Fire Extinguisher should go in your space, you must decide what size of Extinguisher you should go with. When making that decision, keep this in mind:

    • A 2 ½ pound extinguisher empties in only 8-10 seconds*
    • A 5 pound extinguisher empties in 9-14 seconds*
    • A 10 pound extinguisher empties in 10-22 seconds*
    • A 20 pound extinguisher empties in 20-26 seconds*
    • A 50 pound wheeled extinguisher empties in 35-40 seconds*

Last, but certainly not least, solicit the services of a licensed Fire Extinguisher Provider to help you determine how many and the correct type of Fire Extinguishers your space calls for, and specifically where they should be installed, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) code.

NFPA code states that all Fire Extinguishers must be inspected monthly and have maintenance annually, and that all Kitchen Hood Suppression Systems must be inspected every 6 months.  We encourage you to choose a Fire Safety Provider that will reliably schedule your Fire Extinguisher and Kitchen Hood Inspections in advance, so that your facility is always protected against the damaging effects of fire.  As you can see, choosing the right Fire Extinguisher is not a “once size fits all” approach.

At Integrated Fire Protection, we would value the opportunity to be your trusted Fire and Life Safety provider. We take a consultative approach to keeping your facility equipped with the correct Fire Extinguishers at all times. In addition to Fire Extinguisher services, Integrated Fire Protection offers Inspections, Testing, and Maintenance of Fire Sprinkler Systems, Fire Alarm Systems, Exit and Emergency Lighting, Special Hazard Fire Systems, Emergency Communication Systems, Security Systems, Video Surveillance Systems, Access Control Systems, and Monitoring.  We would welcome the opportunity to discuss your facility’s comprehensive Fire and Life Safety needs.

If you have any questions or concerns about your facility’s Fire Extinguishers, or if your inspections are past due, please contact us at (770) 458-8828 or sales@integratedfireprotection.com. It would be our pleasure make sure your facility is safe, complaint, and outfitted with the most appropriate Fire Extinguishers for your space and application.

* Times may vary depending on type of Fire Extinguisher and manufacturer.