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How to Choose and Use the Right Type of Fire Extinguisher

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Fire extinguishers are absolutely essential for safety in both the home and the workplace. But with several different types on the market, many people are unsure what to get. Fire extinguishers are rated by the class of fire they can fight and the type of fire suppressant they use, as well as their size and performance.

Of course, you should never try to stop a fire that is rapidly spreading or out of control. Get everyone to safety and dial 000 (triple zero) for help. If the fire is controllable, however, knowing how to properly operate a fire extinguisher is key. Here is a look at how to choose and use the right type of fire extinguisher.

Fire Extinguisher Classes

Fire extinguishers are divided into 6 classes according to the type of fire they can control. Class A extinguishers are appropriate for paper and textiles, as well as wood and most kinds of rubber and plastics. Class B extinguishers are for flammable liquids. Class C fire extinguishers fight combustible and flammable gas fires. Class D extinguishers are for combustible metals. Class E fire extinguishers are for energised electrical equipment, and Class F extinguishers fight cooking fires from oil or fats.

Some fire extinguishers are marked for use on more than one type of fire. Make sure you understand what fire hazards exist in your home or work site, and that you have available extinguishers that can meet all those types of fires. Never use a fire extinguisher on a different class of fire than it is rated for.

Fire Suppressing Material

Fire extinguishers use different types of fire suppressants, depending on the types of fires they will fight. Water-based suppressants are only appropriate for Class A fires. They can cause the fire to spread when sprayed on any other type of burning material. Before using a water-based fire extinguisher, make sure that only ordinary combustible materials are burning.

Foam fire suppressants work well on Class A and B fires, and may be of some limited use for Class F cooking fires. However, they can never be used on electrical fires.

Dry powder chemical extinguishers are among the most versatile. They work well against most

types of fires and are relatively inexpensive. However, they are not appropriate in every situation. Although they are generally suitable for electrical equipment fires, they are moderately to severely corrosive. Some leave a sticky residue that is hard to wipe away. If you use a dry powder extinguisher, clean off the residue immediately to prevent corrosive damage. Note that dry powder extinguishers are not recommended for cooking fires.

Carbon dioxide extinguishers are ideal for energised electronic equipment because their residue is not harmful. However, they are only moderately useful against other types of fires. In particular, this type of extinguisher may allow a Class A fire to reignite.

Wet chemical fire extinguishers are best for Class A and F fires. They are not appropriate for any other type of fire, and can be dangerous if used on electrical equipment. Vaporising liquid extinguishers can be used on Class A and E fires, and have some limited usefulness on other types of fires.

Note that Class D metal fires require a specialized extinguisher. Never try to fight a metal fire with any other type of fire extinguisher.

Other Considerations

Fire extinguishers also carry a numeric rating, which tells how well the extinguisher performs against a particular type of fire. Higher numbers are better, so a 5B performs better than a 2B. Extinguishers that are rated for more than one type of fire carry a number before each letter.

Another factor to consider is how large an extinguisher you want. From tiny units for the car to massive tanks, fire extinguishers come in many different sizes. Look for an extinguisher that is hefty enough to cover the area where it is located, but light enough that anyone who might be in that location can comfortably use it. Fire extinguishers with attached hoses are much easier to use than those that require you to direct a nozzle.

Operating a Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers should always be located at a comfortable, easy-to-reach height near a door. When fighting the fire, keep your back to the door so that you can leave quickly if the fire becomes unmanageable.

The acronym PASS is the best way to remember how a fire extinguisher works. First, Pull the pin. Located at the top of the extinguisher, the pin normally engages a locking mechanism that keeps the extinguisher from accidentally discharging. Pulling the pin allows you to use the extinguisher.

Next, Aim the fire extinguisher. Point it at the base of the flames. Putting out the fuel source is the only way to stop the fire.

Third, Squeeze the handle or lever. Positive pressure is the only way to release the suppressing agent. If you let go, the extinguisher will stop discharging its contents.

Finally, Sweep the extinguisher back and forth in even motions across the fire. It might require several passes, especially if the fire is large. Maintain even pressure on the handle and keep aiming at the base of the flames. Do not hesitate to leave if the fire begins to grow or spread.

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