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Why are there Different Fire Extinguishers?

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Different Fuels, Different Tools

Not everyone realizes that a single fire extinguisher isn’t going to be effective for every single type of fire. Different types of fires require different types of extinguishing methods. The variable that makes the fires differ from each other is what fuels them. The first thing that comes to mind when one normally sees a fire is: WATER! Water does extinguish most fires, but would you throw water on a grease fire? Big negative! In that situation, water would make the fire much worse instead of helping put out the flames. Make sure that you have the proper type of fire extinguisher installed for the potential hazards that are specific to your building and that the staff on hand know how and when to use them! Different types of fire extinguishers also may need to be used in different areas of your facility based on what that area houses and what the best extinguishing method would be in case a possible fire was to break out.

The Variety Based on Your Variables

Fires are divided into categories just like fire extinguishers. The different types of fires fall into Classes, including A, B, C, D, and K. Class A fires are freely burning and are fueled by solid components like wood and paper. Class B fires are fueled by flammable liquids or gases. Class C fires are energized electrical fires and can pose as extreme shock hazards. Class D consists of metallic fires, and last but not least, Class K fires are cooking fires, usually fueled by grease and fats.

The Right Tools for the Right Fuels

Water-based extinguishing methods should only be used on Class A fires which consist of paper, wood, cloth, trash, and plastic. Using water to extinguish fires fueled by flammable gases, liquids, and paint could potentially help spread the flames rather than putting them out. Using water to put out a fire consisting of electricity or motors could result in a dangerous shock hazard as well. Water may be the first thing to come to mind to put out a fire, but it isn’t the answer to every single one!

Foam extinguishers work by isolating the oxygen molecules from the fire, therefore, smothering it out. The foam expands once it has been discharged out of the extinguisher and blankets the fire to suffocate it. The foam also prevents the vapors from the liquid fuels from rising and feeding the flames even more. Because of this, foam fire extinguishers are extremely effective in gasoline fires. These types of extinguishers should only be used on Class A and B fires. If used on a Class C fire, it could possibly result in an electrical shock.

Carbon dioxide-based extinguishers are like foam extinguishers in the way that they both separate the oxygen particles from the fire. But carbon dioxide fire extinguishers also release a stream of cold air to dampen the heat from the flames as well. They kill off some of the carbon dioxide molecules so that the oxygen molecules are useless in fueling the blaze. These can be used on Class B and C fires. Carbon dioxide extinguishers are one of the cleanest types of extinguishing options because they don’t leave a heavy residue behind, therefore, there is no need for a messy clean-up!

ABC Powder fire extinguishers are the most commonly used fire extinguishers. These spray a fine chemical mist that acts like a blanket and suffocates the fire. Maybe you can tell by its name, but these fire extinguishers can be used to fight fire Classes A, B, and C. Because of their multi-purpose characteristics, these extinguishers are extremely versatile.

Wet chemical fire extinguishers are best equipped for Class K fires, or commonly known as cooking fires. The chemicals inside are mostly made up of potassium (maybe that’s where this class of fires got its title!), that puts out the flames while also making sure that they don’t reignite. Wet chemical extinguishers work two-fold. First, the liquid mist that is expelled cools the fire. Next, the potassium reacts with the fat and oils fueling the fire, evolving the oils into a thinker substance that ensures that the fire cannot reignite.

The ideal option for your business, especially if it is heavily technological based, are clean agent fire extinguishers. These are extremely convenient for rooms or businesses housing lots computers or wiring. They are examples of gaseous fire suppressors, meaning that they use a chemical in its gaseous state to put out the fire. The gas fills the room, fighting off the oxygen molecules that are fueling the flames. The gas contained inside these fire extinguishers is typically mostly halon. These extinguishers don’t conduct electricity, so they are used in Class B and C fires. Clean agent fire extinguishers aren’t just convenient when it comes to clean up, but they are also safer to use near your electronics. So, if a fire were to break out, your equipment would be protected from the damages of the flames and the extinguisher!

Safety is Key

Of course, it’s super important to know your facility inside and out to start with, but it is even more important to be completely familiar with the possible hazards that could take place within your business and plan ahead to be able to prevent those catastrophes from taking place. Different areas in your location could pose different threats, so make sure to have the correct fire extinguishers for the appropriate areas. Having the proper equipment is just the first step! Sometimes the most pristine of devices can be deemed completely useless if no one knows how to use them properly. Make sure your employees are trained on how to use the safety equipment that is provided correctly. It’s just like a car: it’s no good without the driver. 

Remember to regularly inspect your fire protection equipment to confirm that everything is in working order and to replace them based on the manufacturer’s instructed schedule. Be responsible and keep your people and your property safe.