Fire is no joking matter. It can be beautiful to look at, but in an instant with the right conditions, it can easily turn into a ranging blaze that can consume a building in minutes. In England in 2019/20, fire and rescue service attended 154,166 incidents, 28,503 of which were domestic or dwelling related. Knowing how to use fire stopping devices such as fire extinguishers can save lives and slow the spread of a fire, domestic or commercial.
A blaze can happen anywhere, and just as first aid can be life saving, so can fire stopping basics. It’s important to know what type of extinguisher to use, when and how to use it and when it’s time to evacuate to a safe place. With fires, the earlier you act, the better. However, knowledge can reduce the instinctive panic and bad decision-making, such as throwing water onto a cooking fire, which can cause the fire to spread rather than put it out. This is why it’s important to always have different types of extinguishers, at work and at home, in easy to reach places, ideally nearby areas where certain fires might occur.
The basics of fire extinguishers:
Using a fire extinguisher is simple but it’s important to follow these steps carefully for success.
- Step one: pull the pin on the extinguisher’s handle to break the tamper seal
- Step two: aim the nozzle/horn/hose at the base of the fire and squeeze the handle
- Step three: use a sweeping motion from side to side until the fire goes out. Repeat if the fire starts again.
These are the basics on how to use a fire extinguisher. Just remember: break (the seal), (aim at the) base, and sweep (from side to side until out); break, base and sweep. There is another commonly used acronym (PASS) that can help you remember the steps:
- Pull the seal
- Aim at the base of the fire
- Squeeze the trigger
- Sweep from side to side
Pay close attention to any warning labels and instructions on your fire extinguisher. There are other points to note, such as, if you’re using a carbon dioxide (CO₂) fire extinguisher, don’t touch the hose or horn as it get cold enough to damage your skin. Read the instructions!
Types of fires
There are different types of fires, and they all have to be fought with different methods. With wood fires, water can be used to put it out, but water cannot be used for grease or oil fires. As such, there are 6 different classes of fires:
- Class A – Fires that involve solid flammables and dusts, such as wood, plastics, paper and cardboard, fabric and textiles, and dusts such as grain dust and flour.
- Class B – Fires that involve flammable liquids, such as gasoline, petroleum oil, paint, or diesel.
- Class C – Fires that involve flammable gases, such as propane, butane, or methane.
- Class D – Fires that involve combustible metals, such as magnesium, lithium, sodium, potassium, titanium, or aluminium.
- Class E - Fires that involve electrical equipment or live electrical sources, however this is not recognised as a separate class of fire in Europe.
- Class F – Fires that involve cooking oils and fats, such as vegetable oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, maize oil, lard, or butter (typically those used for deep-fat fryers).
Types of fire extinguishers
There are five main types of fire extinguishers: water, foam, powder, CO₂ and wet chemical; and they each have a separate role to play in fire stopping. Some can be used on some types of fires, others, cannot. It’s important to know the type of fire to know what type of extinguisher can be used and cannot.
- Water extinguishers (Class A) can be used on paper, wood, coal, cardboard, fabric, etc.
- Powder extinguishers (anything except Class F) can be used on any fire except Class F fires.
- Foam extinguishers (Class A & B) can be used on solid fuel fires and flammable liquids.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO₂) extinguishers (Class B & E) can be used on flammable liquids and electrical fires.
- Wet Chemical extinguishers (Class A & F) can be used on cooking/grease fires as well as solid fuel fires.
Here is a helpful image we found that sums it up:
Because powder fire extinguishers are so versatile, they have become a great choice for home use when paired with a wet chemical extinguisher for the kitchen. However, it is always recommended to speak with a local fire stopping expert as they may have a more specialised solution for your needs.
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