Fire-related incidents are as common as they are costly and dangerous. In the UK, it was reported by England’s Fire and Rescue (FRSs) that there were about 582,551 incidents by the end of the third quarter of 2018. Although most establishments and operations adhere to fire safety codes, it’s not enough to just have fire hazard warning safety signs and evacuation plans in case of fire. Nor is it enough to just have fire extinguishers in place as not all fire extinguishers are designed for all types of fires.
It’s important to know the different types of fires and the appropriate fire extinguishers to be used.
Types of Fire
Fires are classified by 4 major causes, although there are other less-common:
- Class A. Class A fires originate from combustible materials such as wood, paper, and cloth.
- Class B. Class B fires originate from combustible and flammable liquids and gases such as paint, gasoline, grease, and oil.
- Class C. Class C fires originate from electrical equipment such as short-circuited cables or overloaded electrical appliances.
- Class D. Class D fires originate from flammable metals such as potassium, sodium, lithium, magnesium, and titanium.
Types of Fire Extinguishers
Water and Foam Extinguishers. This extinguisher works as water takes away the heat of the fire while the foam takes away the oxygen. Water and foam extinguishers are used for Class A fires only. This type of extinguisher could be a shock hazard when used with Class C fires, and would potentially worsen and spread Class B fires.
- Water Mist Extinguishers. This is similar to the water and foam extinguisher but can be safely used for Class C fires.
- Carbon Dioxide Extinguishers. This uses a cold discharge that takes away both the oxygen and the heat from the fire. CO2 extinguishers are used for Class B and C fires and are ineffective on Class A fires.
- Dry Chemical Extinguishers. This type of extinguisher cancels out the chemical reaction in a fire and can be safely and effectively used on Class A, Class B, and Class C fires. However, one should check whether or not the Dry Chemical Extinguisher is multi-purpose as ordinary Dry Chemical Extinguishers can only be used on Class B and C fires.
- Wet Chemical Extinguishers. Wet chemical extinguishers remove the heat and prevent the fire from being reignited. It is often used for a special classification of fire which is Class K, specifically for fires fuelled by grease, vegetable or animal fat, and cooking oil. This is commonly used in the cooking industry.
- Dry Powder Extinguishers. This type of fire extinguisher is similar to dry chemical extinguishers but is specially designed to be used for Class D or metal fires only.
Extra Advice: Fire Extinguishing in Your Workplace
Your company should have, or include, fire extinguisher training in your annual safety drills and orientations. Although it may be costly and take employees away from their work, having a workforce that’s knowledgeable and trained when it comes to putting out fires would be less costly than having to pay for repairs after a fire breaks out and spreads with no one knowing what to do or which extinguisher to use. In case of fire, your employees should take note of what is burning, making sure that smoke is not filling up the area, know the escape plan, and follow their training.
Additionally, the type of fire extinguishers placed in certain areas should be strategically planned; fire extinguishers for Class A (wood, paper, cloth) fire should be found in areas where those materials are prevalent.
It’s important to know the cause and/or type of fire and use the appropriate fire extinguisher. Using the wrong one might even cause more damage than harm, so make that you and your employees are well-versed of the different types of fires and fire extinguishers.