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Fire Safety: A Guide to Fire Extinguishers

schedule 14th July 2017 by Emma Brook in Health and Safety

A guide to fire extinguishers

Why is Fire Safety important?

Do you understand the different fire extinguisher types? Depending on the kind of fire you're dealing with, it may need extinguishing with dry powder, foam, water or carbon dioxide (CO2). It's therefore important to know how to use a fire extinguisher of each of these types, particularly if you're a fire safety officer at your workplace.

Fire safety training, such as Virtual College's Fire Safety e-learning course, should be made available to all employees, covering key areas such as recognising fire hazards, how to safely escape from a building and knowing how to use a fire extinguisher.

Before understanding which fire extinguisher to use, you need to know the different fire types.

What different types of fire are there?

Fires are classified into six categories, and there are different corresponding fire extinguisher classes too. The fire types are:

  • Class A - fires containing solid materials, e.g. wood, straw, paper or textiles.
  • Class B- fires involving flammable liquids, e.g. petrol, diesel or paint.
  • Class C - fires including flammable gases, e.g. methane and propane.
  • Class D - fires which include flammable metals, e.g. magnesium and titanium.
  • Class E - fires involving electrical equipment, e.g. computers and fuse boxes.
  • Class F - fires usually occurring in a commercial kitchen and involving cooking oils, e.g. deep fat fryers.

What fire extinguisher should I use?

Here are the different fire extinguisher types and when they should be used:

  • Powder fire extinguishers - these can be used on Class A, B, C and electrical fires. Under the fire extinguisher colour code, these have a blue label. To use them, aim the jet at the base of the fire until all flames are extinguished. If the fire extinguisher has a hand control, use this to let the air clear before tackling the fire again if needed.
  • Water fire extinguishers - these are for use on Class A fires, and should never be used on fires involving flammable liquids, gases, cooking or electrical fires. These have a red label and should be aimed at the base of the fire, with a sweeping motion carried out until the fire is extinguished.
  • CO2 fire extinguishers - these are for use on Class B fires, as well as those involving a large amount of electrical equipment. You can identify these types of fire extinguisher by their black label. To extinguish a fire, aim the horn at the base of the fire and sweep the jet across the area of the fire. Never hold the horn, as it could freeze your skin.
  • Foam fire extinguishers - these are for use on Class A and B fires, and have a cream label. For a Class A fire, point the extinguisher at the base of the flames and use a sweeping motion. For Class B, aim the extinguisher at the inside of the container, above the burning liquid, where possible.
  • Wet chemical fire extinguishers - these have a yellow label and are primarily designed for Class F fires and in commercial kitchen settings, but can also be used on Class A and B fires. If this is a kitchen oil fire, you'll need to use a slow, circular motion to extinguish it most effectively, using the entire contents of the extinguisher.
  • Dry powder fire extinguishers - these are best for tackling class D fires, and can be identified by their blue label. Specialist training is needed before using one of these fire extinguishers.
  • Dry water mist fire extinguishers - these can be used on Class A, B, C and F fires. This type of fire extinguisher has a white label with red writing, and a sweeping motion towards the base of the fire should be used for effective extinguishing.

Using other fire safety equipment

Knowing what fire extinguisher to use isn't the only fire safety knowledge that may be needed in a workplace. Here is some of the other fire safety equipment you may need to use:

  • Fire blankets - these are often used to tackle hot oil fires, e.g. from a frying pan, or used on clothing that has caught fire.
  • Fire buckets - these are filled with water or sand and can be used to help extinguish some fires.
  • Fire hoses - these contain water or foam and can be used to extinguish fires. They shouldn't be used on fires containing electrical equipment or flammable liquids.

Want to learn more about fire safety in the workplace? Check out Virtual College's Fire Safety e-learning course here.


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Emma Brook - Virtual College

Author: Emma Brook

Emma works in the marketing design team at Virtual College and works on a variety of print and digital design projects. In her spare time she enjoys going to gigs and the theatre.

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