Comparisons and considerations when selecting a fire extinguisher

Ask yourself, if you were faced with a fire starting right now, would you be prepared, and if it was safe to do so, be confident in dealing with it, while you wait for the fire brigade to arrive?

There are many types of handheld fire extinguishers commonly available, but do you know which one to use for which type of fire? And if you did, would you know the right technique to use? For example, the method of tackling a fire with a dry powder extinguisher is very different to a water or a foam one.

We must stress there is clear guidance from the fire brigade to “Get out and Stay Out” and we totally agree and support that advice. Please also remember, that all fire extinguishers have just two purposes: to either deal with a fire at its very earliest of stages, before it becomes established (typically within its first 30 to 90 seconds), or to aid your own escape from the premises. Once a fire is established, then it is no longer a job for a fire extinguisher and you should absolutely, get out and stay out! Never, ever, risk your own safety trying to tackle a fire. Plus, be very mindful of the toxic smoke from the fire and not just the heat from the flames, it is these poisonous gases that can be the biggest killer.

But, if a fire has just started in a grill pan for example, and we stress, only if its safe to do so, would it not be better to react quickly and extinguish it there and then? Imagine the likely state of the kitchen by the time the fire brigade arrive even within less than the typical 10 minutes? By then the kitchen and much of the house will be severely damaged.

Comparison Chart of Different Types of Fire Extinguishers at Typical Size and Weights

OK so which type of which type should I have?

Well, the first question is what are your fire risks? What are the likely types or classes of fires that will occur? Is it just solid combustibles or flammable gases? Could an electrical fire start? If at home, what about the risk of cooking oil or fats in the kitchen? You will need to know exactly which type of extinguisher to use on that particular type, or class of fire. A word of warning, if you get it wrong, there is a possibility of endangering yourself and making the fire very much worse. Of course, every second counts, so it’s important to make that decision quickly and correctly. So, do you know exactly which extinguishers match the fire classes?

Fortunately, there is some good general, all-around extinguishers that deal with the more common types of fires. A good example is that typical, all-rounder, a dry powder fire extinguisher since it does classes A, B, C and electrical fires. But, it will not do cooking oil or fat fires. In fact, if you were to use one here, it would create fireball endangering yourself and anyone around. Plus, there are other issues with the Dry Powder since it should not be used within confined spaces such as indoors or within a caravan and motorhome. In fact, dry powder extinguishers are soon to be outlawed to be sited in these locations due to the health risks of the powder as well as how it impacts the visibility of the user when escaping.

Of course, this is where new technology extinguishers such as the Fire Safety Stick come in, not only is it certified for more classes of fires, (A, B, C, Electrical and F), it is completely safe to use and is a clean agent (meaning the extinguishing process does not leave any damaging mess or residue at all).

Using the correct technique for the fire extinguisher

OK, you have chosen the right extinguisher, but do you know how to correctly use it? There is more to it than just pulling the pin out, squeezing the trigger and pointing at the fire. For example, for a powder extinguisher, instead of allowing a continuous stream of powder to spray out, which would only last a few seconds, you should do repeated, very short spurts, aiming at the base of the fire, thereby smothering it. For a foam-based extinguisher, spray the extinguishant above, so that it lands directly on top of the fire, enabling it to cool the fire. If using a CO2 extinguisher, one must be careful not to touch the cone since its temperature is freezing due to the rapid expansion of the pressurised gas. Again, also be careful within a confined space so that the doesn’t deprive the operator or anyone nearby of their own oxygen. Quite often, fire extinguishers can gain a poor reputation from its user by failing to extinguish a small fire, despite it being the correct type for that fire class, simply because the user didn’t use the correct technique at all.

An additional point to consider is whether there is a clear, uninterrupted path from extinguisher to fire. For example, if there is a vent in the direct path, then it means that the water, powder or foam will not hit the fire correctly, whereas gaseous extinguishers such as CO2 and the Fire Safety Stick can easily pass through the vent to extinguish the fire.

Therefore, we strongly recommend you not only have the right type of extinguisher for your particular fire risk needs but that all those who are likely to need to use it (all family members, for example) are trained on the correct fire classes and technique to use the extinguisher/s. And of course, it is also just as important to ensure the extinguishers are regularly serviced and within the expiry date for the traditional pressurised types, or in the case of the Fire Safety Stick, which is non-pressurised and service-free, is visually inspected to ensure the striker cap is in place and the activating black resin is still firm.