A guide to the different types of fire extinguishers

By Dave Hipkins, national technical and product manager, Wormald New Zealand

fire extinguisher_blogHaving the right equipment is close at hand is vital for minimising the impact of fire. A serviced and functional fire extinguisher may mean the difference between a minor incident and devastating full scale fire.

When choosing a suitable fire extinguisher, one needs to consider which fire extinguishers will address the needs and hazards of each individual business environment.

There are five different categories of fires, classed according to the types of fuels they burn:

  • Class A: Carbonaceous solids (including wood, cloth, paper, most plastics and rubber)
  • Class B: Flammable and combustible liquids (such as petrol, diesel and methylated spirits). Water must never be used on a Class B fire.
  • Class C: Combustible gases (for example, LPG, CNG and propane). Isolation of the fire is the only safe way to extinguish a Class C fire.
  • Class D: Combustible metals (for example, magnesium, aluminium and sodium). These fires are more common that many realise and require specialist advice.
  • Class E: Electrically energised equipment. Electrical fires require their own class and the equipment must comply with the Australian/New Zealand Standard 1850 Portable fire extinguishers – Classification, rating and performance testing test for electrical non-conductivity. Water must not be used on electrical fires.
  • Class F: Cooking fats and oils (such as those used for shallow and deep fat fryers). Fire blankets are most effective and recommended in conjunction with extinguishers for Class F fires.

Every fire extinguisher is classified by the class of fire it can be used on and the extinguisher will clearly display its class on the outside of the extinguisher. All details pertaining to the classification of fire extinguishers are set out in AS/NZS 1850.

ABE powder fire extinguishers are the most widely used type and are suitable for house, boat, garage, car or caravan environments. They can be used for Class A, B, C and E type fires. BE powder fire extinguishers are most suitable for Class B and E fires.

Using a fire extinguisher:
Fire extinguishers should be installed as required by Australian or New Zealand standards and typically involves a unit being located close to the main exit from the building. If the fire can’t be controlled, it is important to have easy access to the exit to get out safely. To operate a fire extinguisher, the simple acronym PASS makes it easy to remember:

  • Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you and release the locking mechanism
  • Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly
  • Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side.

When using a fire extinguisher, keep your back to a clear exit for an easier and quicker escape if the fire cannot be controlled. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.

Testing and maintenance should also be carried out in accordance with Australian/New Zealand Standard 1841 Portable fire extinguishers – General requirements. Ensure that the extinguisher is kept in its designated place at all times and is ready to use in the event of a fire.

It is also recommended that designated personnel are trained in how to use fire extinguishers. This may be required under the health and safety legislation. In addition to having the correct firefighting equipment on site, every business should have a fire escape plan that is practiced regularly with staff. This will ensure that everyone understands what to do in the event of a fire emergency.

For more information on Wormald’s range of fire extinguishers, visit our website.

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