Different Types of Fire Extinguishers and Their Uses

Fires are a frequent occurrence in the UK and can have a devastating impact on a business. For this reason, employers are responsible for installing adequate fire risk control measures and promoting good fire safety practices among their staff to prevent them from occurring.

One key measure that can be used to provide fire protection in the workplace is to install a suitable fire extinguisher and train staff in its use.

This article will examine the different classes of fire and the types of fire extinguishers and extinguishing agents.

Fire extinguishing

How Many Types of Fire are Classified in the UK?

Before looking at the main types of fire extinguishers, it is important to understand the fire classes.

There are six different classifications of fire:

  • Class A fires
  • Class B fires
  • Class C fires
  • Class D fires
  • Electrical fires
  • Class F fires

What is a Class A Fire?

Fire Safety - Class A Fire

Class A fires involve solid combustible materials like wood, paper, plastic, and fabric. This type of fire is prevalent and can spread quickly if there are enough solid materials to sustain it.

What is a Class B Fire?

Fire Safety - Class B Fire

Class B fires involve flammable liquids, such as petrol, diesel, ethanol, paint, turpentine and paraffin. These liquids and their vapours can be ignited easily and stored away from open flames.

What is a Class C Fire?

Fire Safety - Class C Fire

Class C fires involve flammable gases such as propane, butane, methane, and hydrogen. Combustible gases can be ignited readily, posing a severe fire and explosion risk in workplaces that use them. Flammable gases must be stored correctly and away from open flames.

What is a Class D Fire?

Fire Safety - Class D Fire

Class D fires involve flammable metals such as magnesium, aluminium, lithium, titanium, and potassium.

This type of fire is uncommon because of the high temperatures that metals require to ignite. However, this high temperature also makes metal fires very dangerous if they do occur.

What is an Electrical Fire?

Fire Safety - Electrical Fire

Electrical fires are caused by faults in live electrical equipment, such as faulty wiring, frayed cables, short circuits and overloaded adapters. They are sometimes informally referred to as 'Class E' fires.

Electrical fires are not considered their class of fire because it is not electricity that burns. Instead, the electrical apparatus ignites the surrounding materials.

What is a Class F Fire?

Fire Safety - Class F Fire

Class F fires involve cooking oil or fats that have been ignited. These fires occur most commonly in restaurants, and are often related to deep fat fryers.

Like combustible metals, cooking oil and fats require very high temperatures to ignite, making class F fires very dangerous.

What are the 5 Types of Fire Extinguisher?

There are five different types of extinguishers that are suitable for various types of fire:

  • Water extinguishers
  • Foam extinguishers
  • Powder extinguishers
  • Carbon dioxide extinguishers
  • Wet chemical extinguishers

Fire Extinguishers and Their Uses

The right fire extinguisher must be used to tackle a fire; otherwise, it may worsen the situation. All fire extinguishers display the above symbols to indicate the type of fire they are suitable for, making it easy to avoid this mistake.

Water Extinguishers

There are two main types of water fire extinguishers: standard water extinguishers and water mist extinguishers. Standard water extinguishers have a red label on top and are suitable for class-A fires only.

In contrast, water mist extinguishers feature a white band and can be used on class A and F fires and electrical fires if they use non-conductive water.

Foam Extinguishers

Foam fire extinguishers are primarily water-based and contain a foaming agent that smothers the fire. They have a cream band on top and can be used to tackle class A and B fires.

Powder Extinguishers

Powder fire extinguishers (dry powder extinguishers) have a dark blue band on top and will contain one of three powders: ABC, M28 and L2.

  • ABC powder has a cooling effect and is suitable for use on class A, B and C fires, such as those involving burning materials, liquids and gases.
  • M28 and L2 powders are designed specifically for class D fires, with the main difference between them being that M28 powder cannot be used on lithium-based fires.

Powder fire extinguishers are highly effective and can be used on various fires. However, the powder can be dangerous to inhale, and it can cause damage to certain items when used, such as carpets and electrical equipment, which may make these extinguishers unsuitable for certain environments.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguishers

Carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishers have a black band on top and a large, distinctive conical hose. They work by displacing the oxygen in the air and suffocating the fire. They are suitable for use on class B and electrical fires. They

Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are great for workplaces with a high risk of electrical fire because they are not substance-based and cause little damage when used.

Wet Chemical Extinguishers

Wet chemical fire extinguishers have a yellow band on top and usually feature a long hose. They work by cooling the burning oil or fat and creating a seal over its surface area to prevent it from re-igniting.

Wet chemical extinguishers are designed to tackle class F fires but can also be used on class A and class A fires.

Training on Fire Safety

Commodious offers two fire safety training courses, one for all staff and another designed specifically for fire marshals. Use the links below to find out more information about these courses:

Bethany Wesson

Bethany Wesson

Bethany is a freelance content writer and has produced articles for the Commodious Knowledge Bank since 2023. She has written about various health and safety topics, from asbestos to mindful business practices.

  • Fire Safety
  • Hazards
  • Heath and Safety