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Fire Extinguisher Types and Uses

Fire Safety

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Fire Safety

Getting to know the Types and Uses of Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers come in various types, each suited to different uses. Therefore, it’s essential to understand which extinguishers your property needs in the case of an emergency. This page has been developed to help you familiarise yourself with the different types of fire extinguishers and what kinds of fire they are used for.

Jump to a section using the helpful links below.

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Types of Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers are a life-saving tool that can help stop a fire before it gets out of control. From 2020 to 2021, the UK Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) were called to put out 149,779 fires. Unfortunately, that same year, 249 people died in fire-related incidents. This is why it is essential to ensure you have the correct fire extinguishers.

There are six main types of fire extinguishers. Each type of extinguisher is suited to a specific fire.

Fires burning organic solids
Fires burning flammable liquids
Fires burning flammable gases
Fires burning metals
Fires burning fats and grease
Electrical fires (electrical fires fall into any category)
Colour Codes

Fire extinguishers are colour-coded. The fire extinguisher colour codes indicate what substance the extinguisher uses to put out a fire. Different substances extinguish different categories of fire most successfully. 

The official fire codes utilise five colours. Some extinguisher manufacturers incorporate additional colours to convey additional information. The fire extinguisher colour bands are: 

Red – water

Red and white band – de-ionised water mist extinguishers

Black – CO² extinguishers

Cream – AFFF foam

Yellow – wet chemical

Blue – dry powder extinguishers/specialist powder

If you see a fire extinguisher with a green band, don’t use it. Green banded fire extinguishers spray Halon. This chemical is illegal in the UK.

Appropriate Use by Extinguisher Type

A fire extinguisher’s colour band is a wide label at the top of the extinguisher canister. Often, the band also incorporates a written label.

Numerical Ratings

Some manufacturers add numerical ratings to their fire extinguishers. These combine with the extinguisher’s letter classification to tell you about the device’s contents.

So, a “21A” label on a fire extinguisher indicates it can extinguish up to 21kg of flammable organic solids. The number on a red-band fire extinguisher typically indicates units of 1¼ gallon of water. 

Fire safety researchers grade Class B fires with circular metal trays tests. The British Standards Institute (BSI) numerically rates a fire extinguisher with Class B verification by how much flammable liquid it can extinguish.

The higher the number, the more the extinguisher can handle.

Water (Red Band)

Red-band fire extinguishers use compressed water to extinguish a fire. To use a red-band fire extinguisher, spray a jetstream of water at the base of the fire. 

Red-band fire extinguishers are the most common type in hospitals and schools.

Extinguishes Class A Fires

Red-band fire extinguishers can put out organic solids that have caught fire. Examples of organic solids include:

  • Paper
  • Hay and straw
  • Hemp, cotton, and other textiles
  • Wood

Red-label fire extinguishers are NOT appropriate for oil, electrical, or kitchen fires. 13A is the most common red-band fire extinguisher size. 21A options are also widely available. 

De-Ionised Water Mist (Red and White band)

De-Ionised Water Mist fire extinguishers also use water to put out fires. But, these extinguishers shoot out water in jets of mist.

De-ionized water mist does not settle into liquid pools. Thus, these extinguishers can safely put out certain fires involving electrical equipment. 

Extinguishes Class A, B, C, and Electrical Fires

The de-ionization process prevents the mist from conducting electrical energy in a hazardous way.

You can safely put out organic solids, burning oils, and burning gases with these extinguishers. Examples of flammable oils and gasses include:

  • Motor oil
  • Methane
  • Butane
  • Hydrogen
  • Alcohols and ethers
Carbon Dioxide (Black Band)

Carbon Dioxide or Black-label extinguishers put out fires by depriving them of oxygen. This makes them well-suited to extinguishing burning flammable liquids. 

These extinguishers cannot safely put out other fuel sources.

Extinguishes Class B, Electrical Fires

Businesses often keep black-band fire extinguishers in garages or laboratories. CO² is not an electrical conductor. This makes it safe to use against electrical fires. 

CO² is non-toxic, and it doesn’t leave behind any solid residue.

AFF Foam (Cream Band)

Cream-label fire extinguishers utilise Aqueous Film Forming Foams (AFFF). These fire-suppressant foams quickly expand to cover a fuel source completely.

Most foams are hydrocarbon-based substances. Therefore, they may include compounds of water and sodium alkyl sulfate.

The film acts as a cover, which cuts off the fuel’s oxygen. It’s much like covering burning oil in a saucepan with a lid. 

Extinguishes Class A, B Fires

AFFF foam will safely extinguish burning organic solids or flammable liquids.

Wet Chemical (Yellow-Band)

Wet chemical extinguishers are typically lightweight. You can precisely target these extinguishers at a fire’s source.

Many professional kitchens have a yellow-label fire extinguisher on hand. 

Extinguishes Class A, F Fires

Yellow-label fire extinguishers work and put out fires involving cooking oils. Engineers specifically develop chemical compositions that extinguish burning oils and fats. 

ABC Powder (Blue-Band)

Blue-label fire extinguishers are multi-use. These extinguishers utilise dry power to smother the fire’s source, depriving it of oxygen.

Extinguishes A, B, C, D*, Electrical Fires

The dry powder does not conduct electricity, so it’s safe to use against electrical fires. Use one of these extinguishers against class A, B, or C fires.

Blue-label extinguishers can put out some burning metals. However, different dry powder compositions can suppress varying metals effectively. For example, sodium chloride can readily extinguish burning alkali metals and aluminium. 

Read the extinguisher’s label to discern precisely which metal-fueled fires it can extinguish. 

Get in touch with our experts

At ClearView, we’ve mastered fire safety. No matter what types of fire extinguishers you need, our systems and services help you to keep your property and people safe.

We regularly review and update our content to ensure we provide visitors with thorough and accurate information. This webpage was updated on 25th April 2022.

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