Different Types of Fire Extinguishers
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) asserts the US has approximately 358,500 household fires each year, 2,695 deaths due to these fires, and 12,000 injuries. There is also roughly $7 billion in property damage caused by these home fires.
The amount of property damage would be much higher if not for people knowing how to use fire extinguishers, some of which happened this year. The following are only a few incidents.
- A man in Windber, PA, heard smoke alarms go off in his home. He saved his entire family and kept the damage to one small area by putting out the fire with his home fire extinguisher.
- In Atlanta, a teenager used a portable fire extinguisher to put out most of a fire in his apartment building before the fire department arrived. Only four apartments got damaged, and there were no injuries or deaths.
- In Kingston, MA, a family completely extinguished a fire in their home. The family had a hoverboard battery charging when the battery pack exploded. There were no injuries and minimal damage.
Every year there are stories of fires being put out or controlled by a fire extinguisher on property. This year, several other incidents included other household fires, car fires, business fires, and even a fire in a New Jersey Walmart. Without the presence of working fire extinguishers and these people's ability to operate them, the amount of damage, and the number of injuries and deaths would be much higher.
Understanding the Function of Fire Extinguishers
For a fire to burn, three elements need to be present: a heat source, fuel, and oxygen. These are the sides of the fire triangle. By removing any of these elements, a fire cannot continue to burn.
Fire extinguishers work by taking away a side of the triangle. Most often, extinguishers work to suffocate the fire by separating the fire from oxygen. Some also work by cooling down the heat source.
Types of Fire Extinguishers
There are several types of extinguishers. Each one addresses the cause of different fires, making them useful on some fires but not others. Understanding both the different types of fires and the type of extinguisher that works on each ensures you choose the best for your home or other property.
Classes of Fire
Class A fires are the type of fire involving organic materials, such as wood, cloth, paper, and some plastic.
Class B fires are those related to flammable liquids and flammable gases, like gas and oil.
An electrical fire, or Class C fire, typically sparks from electrical equipment, like live wires, plugs, and circuit breakers.
Class D fires involve flammable metals, like aluminum, titanium, magnesium, and sodium.
Class K fires are commercial kitchen fires, which involve vegetable oils and fats for cooking. These are designated Class F fires in the UK.
Types of Extinguishers
A dry chemical fire extinguisher creates a barrier between oxygen and fuel, cutting off the chemical reaction of specific fires. There are regular dry chemical fire extinguishers and those known as ABC dry chemical extinguishers.
A standard dry chemical fire extinguisher is ideal for burning liquids and electrical fires (Class B and C). The ABC dry chemical extinguishers are multipurpose ones that also work for Class A fires.
These ABC extinguishers will plainly state on the label on which fires they are safe to use. Using them for any other type of fire can cause a fire to reignite.
The wet chemical extinguishing agent works to put out the fire by cooling burning oil and separating oxygen from the fuel. They are effective on both Class K and Class A kitchen fires. Wet chemical extinguishers have a yellow label with red letters.
Water and Foam
Water and foam extinguishers, sometimes shortened to water foam, have a cooling effect on the heat source while also taking oxygen out of the equation. Only use these extinguishers for Class A fires as the foaming agent contains water, posing a shock hazard with other fire types. Class A extinguishers have a red label with white letters while foam extinguishers have a cream label with red letters.
Water Extinguishers or Mist Extinguishers
A water mist extinguisher focuses on cooling the heat. These work best on Class A fires but are cleared for use on Class C fires, too. Water mist extinguishers have a white label with red letters.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
The carbon dioxide in a CO2 extinguisher smothers the oxygen while the cold blast cools the flammable liquids and gas. They are designed for use on Class B and Class C fires. Be sure not to confuse carbon dioxide with carbon monoxide, which decreases the body's oxygen supply leading to sickness and death. CO2 extinguishers have a black label with white letters.
Clean agent extinguishers include halon agents, which work to cool the fire and interrupt any chemical reaction. Most are suitable for Class A, B, and C fires. However, some smaller ones may not be effective on Class A, so be sure to check the label. Clean agent extinguishers are typically identifiable by their green label.
A dry powder extinguisher works by cooling the heat or by separating oxygen from the fuel. You can only use a dry powder extinguishing agent on Class D fires. Dry powder extinguishers have a blue label with white letters.
Each unit has a UL rating on the canister that signifies the kinds of fires it is safe for and how effective it is on those fires.
What Type of Fire Extinguisher is Best for Homes?
An ABC or multipurpose extinguisher fights fires caused by flammable liquid, electrical issues, and organic materials, which are the most common causes of household fires. Having an ABC extinguisher on each floor, in every bedroom, and near exits is an excellent step in a fire safety plan.
You will also need to choose between rechargeable and disposable models. Rechargeable extinguishers require a more considerable initial investment than disposable ones do.
However, they have sturdier metal valves where disposable ones have plastic valves. And while a pressure gauge on a disposable extinguisher tells you whether it is full or empty, a rechargeable one also tells you if it is overcharged or undercharged.
Additionally, rechargeable ones can save you money over time. If you use a disposable one, even for a second, you will have to throw it away and purchase a new one. With a rechargeable one, you can have it refilled and re-pressurized after each use instead of buying a new unit.
Home fire extinguishers are an excellent tool but using them wisely plays a vital role in your safety. A portable fire extinguisher can put out small fires or suppress flames to help you escape. However, most extinguishers' discharge time is only seconds, so your focus should be on getting out of the home, not fighting the fire. Get yourself and your family quickly to safety and let your local fire department handle the rest.
I hope that helps!
At your service,