There are different types of fire extinguishers that are used for different types of fires. They each contain a different substance (eg foam, water, carbon dioxide) and each one is specifically designed for fires cause by different factors and materials. There isn’t one fire extinguisher that can put out all types of fires. For example, you couldn’t put out an electrical fire with a water fire extinguisher because this would be extremely dangerous.
Fire extinguishers used in Australia are rated for one or more classes of fire. The different classes of fire are outlined below:
- Class A – Ordinary Combustibles
- Class B – Flammable and Combustible Liquids
- Class C – Flammable Gases
- Class D – Combustible Metals
- Class E – Electrically Energised Equipment
- Class F – Cooking Oils and Fats
Portable fire extinguishers are made easily identifiable by their coloured band as well as labels on the cylinder. The most common fire extinguishers used in Australia are water, foam and powder.
Water Fire Extinguishers – Class A Fires
Water fire extinguishers are used for class A fires which are ordinary combustibles such as paper. They are solid red in colour with no band. They are not to be used for electrical fires or for cooking oils and fats.
Foam Fire Extinguishers – Class A and Class B Fires
Foam fire extinguishers are used for class A and class B fires such as paper or flammable liquids (not gas). They have limited effectiveness for class F fires and are not to be used for electrical fires. The are solid red with a blue band or label.
Powder Fire Extinguishers – Rated ABE or BE
Powder Fire Extinguishers are rated as ABE or BE. ABE rated extinguishers are suitable for class A, class B, class C and class E fires. They are not considered effective for class F fires. BE rated extinguishers are suitable for class B, class C and class E fires and may be used with limited effectiveness of class F fires. They can also be used for class A fires. They are a red cylinder with a white band or label. These are the most common fire extinguishers used in domestic settings as they can be used for fires involving cooking oils and fats as well as electrical fires.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – Class E Fires
Carbon Dioxide fire extinguishers are used for class E fires which are electrical. It is a red cylinder with a black band or label.
Vaporising Liquid – Class A and Class E Fires
Vaporising liquid extinguishers are used for class A and class E fires. They are red with a yellow band or label.
Wet Chemical – Class F Fires
Wet chemical fire extinguishers are used for fires involving cooking oils and fats. They are red with an oatmeal band or label.
Class D fires (combustible metals) require specialised extinguishers.
Using a fire extinguisher effectively can help prevent the spread of fire and damage to people and property. This is why it is so important for as many people as possible to be trained in the use of fire extinguishers regularly, in homes and work places. Although fire extinguishers are not difficult to use, it is important to know where they are located, which extinguisher to choose and how to use one safely and effectively.
An emergency is not the time to read instructions and try to work out how to use one. Fire extinguishers should be used in the early stages of a fire and by someone who is confident in the use of one (and also physically able to use one). The fire service should always be called on 000. If the fire cannot be extinguished using a fire extinguisher than it is too large and evacuation needs to occur.