Understanding Fire Extinguisher Types in Australia

Understanding Fire Extinguisher Types in Australia

Fires are a disastrous incident that not only destroy homes and businesses but can be deadly to human life as well. Many fire emergencies can be managed if you are aware of the different types of fire extinguishers to use for specific types of fires. 

In this guide, you will learn the importance of having fire extinguishers accessible in your home or business, the different fire extinguisher types and uses and their required fire safety services in Geelong. Whether you are looking to protect a residential area, your office building, or even an industrial setting, the items laid out in this article could better prepare you in case of a fire emergency.

What are the Different Classes of Fire?

We determine different fire classes by the fuel source that started the fire in the first place and then fire extinguisher types are assigned to each type of fire. Fire classes in Australia range from A to F.

Class A Fires

Class A fires consist of those lit by combustible materials found in homes and businesses. Common examples of these materials are paper, wood, coal, and textiles. These fires can start from something as simple as a cigarette tossed in a wastebasket or fireplace embers falling onto a nearby rug. 

Any carbon-based solid can ignite and count as a Class A fire. To prevent these types of fires, you should never leave candles or fireplaces unattended while lit. 

Class B Fires

Class B fires include combustible and flammable liquids commonly found in homes and industrial settings. Some fuel sources for these fires are petrol, oils, and alcohol.

One of the most common instances of Class B fires is a discarded cigarette butt that still has a flame thrown near a puddle of petrol. Another ignition source could be when the spark of a piece of machinery comes into contact with oil or gas nearby.

One important note to remember about Class B fires and class B fire extinguishers is never to use water to attempt to put this fire out. The water evaporates instantly, causing an explosion of burning oil.

Class C Fires

Class C fires consist of flammable gases found in homes, commercial kitchens, garages, and workshops. Natural gas, LPG, propane, butane, and methane are typical fuel sources. Class C extinguishers must be used to put these fires out.

These fires often result from gas leaks around kitchens and outdoor grills. They can also ignite from gas-powered equipment used at industrial sites. 

Class D Fires

Class D fires are the result of combustible metals. These types of fire are rare but present unique challenges when attempting to extinguish them. 

Metal fires usually involve the ignition of aluminium, magnesium, potassium, or titanium, among other metals. 

For metals to ignite, extreme heat is needed. These fires commonly occur in manufacturing and industrial plants where metals are processed, moulded, or stored.

Class E Fires

Class E Fires or Electrical Fires involve household appliances and electrical devices & equipment. Typical sources of Class E fires are heaters, kitchen appliances, and computers.

Anything from frayed wiring to machine overheating can cause Class E fires. These fires can also be caused by covering heating and cooling devices such as heaters, furnaces, or air conditioners.

Class F Fires

Class F fires usually occur in kitchens but can happen anywhere food gets prepared. The typical source of ignition is cooking fats and oils that have either built up in the duct works of commercial kitchens or the result of an unattended oil-filled pan.

Keeping your kitchen clean and free of oil and grease build-up is the best way to prevent Class F fires.

What are the Main Types of Fire Extinguishers?

Knowing the differences between the types of fire is the first step in a responsible fire safety plan. The next step is understanding the different fire extinguishers types and which works for each fire class.

It is vitally important that each extinguisher be labelled appropriately and clearly with coloured bands. Each is also painted with a rich red paint widely known as ‘Signal Red’.

Water Fire Extinguisher

Water extinguishers work best with Class A fires. These are the easiest and most common types of extinguishers. They are also the cheapest and least hazardous as no chemicals are involved. 

These extinguishers work by soaking the site with water and absorbing the heat. They are usually equipped with nozzles that can be easily pointed and are effective at putting out small fires in homes, offices, and schools.

A Water extinguisher has a red body and doesn't have a colour band wrapped around the top of its cylinder.

Find out more about effectively using a water fire extinguisher.

Foam Fire Extinguisher

Foam extinguishers, as you can tell by the name, use foam to smother the fire. They can be used to put out fires in both wet and dry substances. They work for Class A and B fires. They work poorly against Class F, where cooking oils or fats are involved.

Foam fire extinguishers aid in extinguishing some electric fires. The residue involved leaves a mess that must get cleaned up afterwards. They also tend to be expensive compared to water extinguishers.

Foam fire extinguishers are labelled with a blue band and should only be utilised for Class A or B fires. They function poorly against every other class of fire.

Find out more about effectively using a foam fire extinguisher.

Dry Chemical Powder Fire Extinguisher

Dry Chemical Powder BE Fire Extinguisher

Dry Chemical Powder BE is approved for Class B and E fires. As the name suggests, these extinguishers emit a dry powder meant to smother the fire. The powder forms a crust and stops the fire from spreading.

Some disadvantages of these particular fire extinguishers are that they do not soak or cool the fire. These disadvantages tend to result in a reignited fire. The powder is poisonous when ingested and should be kept out of tight, close quarters.

The powder also damages furniture and machinery after use, leaving a big mess to clean up. These fire extinguishers are labelled with a white band.

Dry Chemical Powder ABE Fire Extinguisher

Similar to the BE version of the Chemical Powder extinguisher, the ABE version uses chemicals to smother the fire and prevent it from spreading. 

What sets ABE extinguishers apart is that most contain mono-ammonium phosphate that flows easily and melts, so it continues to cover the flames as it moves over the fire.

BE powder does not melt and can not be used in Class A fires. Users should pay close attention to the labelling on these units as they are both labelled with a white band. But only ABE versions can be used for Class A fires.

Find out more about effectively using a dry powder fire extinguisher.

Carbon Dioxide Extinguisher

This type of extinguisher uses nothing but pressurised carbon dioxide and leaves nothing behind. These are particularly useful in fighting Class B fires and Class E fires. 

Since there is no chemical residue, carbon dioxide extinguishers are common in office settings. When fires are ignited near electronic and computer equipment, the lack of residue means minimal damage to equipment and no mess to clean up.

Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are labelled with a black band and are rated for Class B and E fires. Beware of possible discharge pressure and a noisy, cold discharge when using.

Find out more about effectively using a CO2 fire extinguisher.

Wet Chemical Fire Extinguisher

Wet chemical extinguishers were the only acceptable style suited for Class F fire extinguishers until the introduction of the water mist extinguishers. They are also used for Class A and some Class B fires. 

These contain alkali salts which create a mist. This cools the fire and prevents oil and grease from splashing and spreading the fire. 

Wet chemical fire extinguishers are labelled with a cream or oatmeal-coloured band. Older types that were rated for Class B and C fires have been withdrawn from general use.

Find out more about effectively using a wet chemical fire extinguisher.

Vaporising Liquid Fire Extinguisher

Vaporising liquid extinguishers are used primarily to fight Class B fires, but some larger ones can be used on Class A fires. They work by interrupting the chemical reaction that triggers the fire.

This fire extinguisher is labelled with a yellow band and works well against Class A and B fires. Some older varieties rated for Class C and F fires have been withdrawn from usage.

How to Handle a Fire Extinguisher Safely?

Now that you’ve determined the difference between fire class and the appropriate fire extinguisher to use for each, the next step is learning how to operate the unit safely.

There is a simple method for remembering how to use a fire extinguisher properly. Just remember the acronym P.A.S.S.

  • P- Pull the pin. Grip the extinguisher from the nozzle and point it away from you. Let go of the locking mechanism

  • A - Aim low. Aim the extinguisher near the base of the fire

  • S - Squeeze the trigger evenly and slowly

  • S - Sweep or swing the nozzle from one side to the other

Another critical component in fire extinguisher safety is ensuring proper storage when not in use. While you want to keep them in an area that is easy to access when needed, you must also ensure it is not in an area that could catch fire easily.

Maintaining and testing your fire extinguisher is also essential. Utilise fire safety miantenance services to perform regular checks of your extinguisher to ensure the pin is still intact and that the labels and coloured bands are still legible. Even if you know the class and type of fire extinguisher, in an emergency, you may not be the person using it.

Staying Prepared

When a fire emergency happens in your home or office, preparing ahead can be the difference between life and death. Knowing which type of fire extinguisher to use in each situation is the key to minimising the damage. Though this guide is not an official training manual, using the information above can be helpful when faced with an unexpected situation.

To ensure your extinguishers are in working order and ready to be used in an emergency, take the time to perform regular fire equipment inspections, as well as fire extinguisher testing and maintenance. Even though other steps need to be taken to prevent fires from spreading including the installation and maintenance of fire alarms and sprinkler systems, a well-maintained fire extinguisher will always be one of the key measures for fire protection and safety.