fire extinguishers | Fire safety in workplace

What are the different types of fire extinguishers in the UK?

As per the Fire Safety (England) Regulations 2022, which commenced on the 23rd of January, it is now a requirement for the responsible persons of high-rise residential buildings (buildings 18m or 7 storeys and above in height) to ensure that their premises are equipped with the necessary fire fighting equipment, one of which being fire extinguishers. 

Fire extinguishers are essential life-saving devices and are mainly used to aid people in evacuating a building containing a fire. They can also be used to douse small fires to prevent the flames from spreading. 

Five different types of fire extinguishers are currently used in the UK. In this article, we explore the five different types as well as the different classes of fire and help you determine which type is the right fit for your building. 

What are the different classes of fire?

Firstly, we will look at the different classes of fire as this will dictate the type of extinguisher. There are six different classes of fire, each covering an array of flammable and combustible materials, gases and liquids:

  • Class A: combustible carbon-based solids, for example, paper, wood or textiles
  • Class B: flammable liquids, for example, paraffin, petrol, diesel or oil (this does not include cooking oil)
  • Class C: flammable gases, for example, butane, propane or methane 
  • Class D: burning metals, for example, aluminium, lithium or magnesium
  • A fire caused by electrical equipment (this class is indicated by an electric spark symbol rather than the letter E) 
  • Class F: fats and cooking oils 

What are the different types of fire extinguishers? 

Water Extinguishers:

Water extinguishers are commonly used for class A fires. These extinguishers are best equipped for dealing with solid combustibles such as wood, paper and textiles. They are the simplest and most common type of extinguisher and work by spraying water from the spray nozzle, allowing it to cover a large surface area. 

Water extinguishers are often found in offices, schools, hospitals, residential properties and warehouses. They should always be located by the exits on floors identified for class A fire risk. 

Foam Extinguishers:

These extinguishers are commonly used to tackle class A and class B fires and are best suited to dealing with liquid fire and organic materials such as wood or paper. They should never be used for kitchen fires or flammable metals and only on electrical fires if electrically tested. 

Similarly to water extinguishers, buildings that should consider installing foam extinguishers are schools, warehouses, residential properties, hospitals and offices. They should also be placed by the exits on floors identified as fire risks for classes A and B. 

Dry Powder Extinguishers:

Often known as ABC extinguishers, dry powder extinguishers can deal with fire risks from classes A, B and C. As well as being used to deal with fires caused by organic materials, you can also use these extinguishers for fires caused by flammable liquids and gases. 

The powder used in these extinguishers is hazardous if inhaled, so it should not be used in small, enclosed spaces. If your premises contain flammable gases such as alcohol or petrol, installing a dry powder extinguisher is vital. 

Wet Chemical Extinguishers:

Wet chemical extinguishers are designed specially to quench class F fires caused by cooking oils and fats. They are the only type of extinguisher that can deal with these fires. You can sometimes use them on fires caused by organic materials. 

Wet chemical extinguishers create a layer of foam on the surface of the burning oils/fats, preventing oxygen from fuelling the fire any further. When operated, it forms a fine mist which has a cooling effect. 

If you work in a commercial kitchen or your premises contain a cafeteria or canteen, you must have at least one wet chemical extinguisher installed. Depending on the size of your premises, you may need more than one. 

You should always consult a fire safety expert such as Harmony before using these types of extinguishers, as wet chemical extinguishers carry the risk of splashing burning fat or oil. A fire safety professional can assist you and your team with the use and best practices. 

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguishers:

Carbon dioxide extinguishers consist of only pressurised carbon dioxide gas and, as a result, leave zero residues, making them very practical for offices, especially given that these extinguishers are used for electrical fires. 

They work by suffocating the fire and preventing it from spreading. They can also be used on class B fires involving flammable liquids. 

It isn’t just offices that benefit from these extinguishers, however. Any property that uses electrical equipment should have at least one carbon dioxide extinguisher. They should always be placed near the source of the risk or near the fire exits. 

If you would like assistance finding the proper firefighting equipment for your business or would like to discuss your fire safety strategy, you can contact us here

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