Different Fire Extinguisher Types & Which One You Need

man inspecting fire extinguisher

There are five main fire extinguisher types, and choosing the right one can make an immense difference between life and death, even for a small fire.

Since different fire types require extinguishing with different kinds of fire extinguishers, selecting the right portable fire extinguisher for your hotel, commercial building, event center, or other premises can be daunting.

This article discusses different fire extinguisher types to help you determine which one you’ll need, depending on the fire risks you are exposed to.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers are classified into different types based on the type or class of fire they can extinguish.

Some extinguishers are ideal for only one or two classes of fire, while others are versatile and can put out more than two types of fire. To ensure proper fire safety, you must use the right portable fire extinguisher.

Classes of Fire

huge fire in kitchen

Fires are classified into six classes.

Class A Fires

Class A fires stem from ignitable carbon-based solids like textiles, wood, paper, straw, plastics, coal, soft furnishings, and rubber.

Class B Fires

Class B fires stem from flammable liquids like petrol, diesel, paraffin, and fuel oils.

Class C Fires

Class C fires originate from flammable gas, like propane, hydrogen, ethylene, acetylene, methane, and butane.

Class D Fires

Class D fires arise from flammable metals such as magnesium, sodium, lithium, potassium, and aluminum.

Electrical Fires

Electrical fires are caused by and associated with electrical equipment. A spark symbol indicates electrical fires, rather than the letter E. Electrical fires stem from electrical equipment such as printers and computers.

Class K Fires

In the US, fires originating from cooking oils and fats are called Class K Fires. These are Class F fires in the UK.

Fire Extinguisher Types

We’ve already established that fire extinguishers are classified into five main types. Below are the five types in detail.

1. Water Extinguishers

Water Extinguishers

Water fire extinguishers are indicated with a red label and used for Class A fires only. They put out fires causd by ordinary combustibles like wood, straw, and soft furnishings.

A water extinguisher takes out heat from the fire triangle of heat, oxygen, and fuel–the three elements required for a fire to occur. Removing one or two of the sides of the fire triangle helps end the fire.

The water from the jet or spray nozzles of water extinguishers soaks the fire and burning materials, thus removing the heat element.

Water extinguishers are simple, recyclable, the least hazardous, low-maintenance, and common in many places because you can use them for ordinary combustibles.

Water mist extinguishers and water spray fire extinguishers are specialized types of water extinguishers.

A water mist extinguisher and water spray fire extinguisher are specialized types of water extinguishers.

Water mist extinguishers are a new type, well-known for their versatility in handling class A, B, C, and K fires. You can use some advanced ones for electrical fires.

Since they leave no residue when used to extinguish a fire, no clean-up is needed.

Water mist fire extinguishers are labeled in white and red colours.

Some water mist fire extinguishers are ideal for putting out electrical fires on electrical equipment like printers and computers with not more than 1,000 volts.

Water spray fire extinguishers are ideal for fires stemming from organic solids like coal, paper, plastics, or wood. The spraying effect is achieved with a spray nozzle and high pressure.

2. Foam Extinguishers

Foam Fire Extinguisher

Indicated with a cream label, foam fire extinguishers put out fires of class A and B. Some can put out electrical fires, but you must spray it at the fire from one meter away.  

Foam fire extinguishers put out fires caused by burning liquids like turpentine, petrol, paraffin, or paint.

3. Dry Powder Extinguishers

A dry powder extinguisher with a blue label is ideal for classes A, B, and C. Some can extinguish class D fires.

Multi-purpose dry powder extinguishers can put out both class B and C fires and are labeled BC. Those that put out class A, B, and C fires are called ABC dry powder fire extinguishers.

4. Carbon Dioxide Extinguishers

Carbon Dioxide Extinguishers

Carbon dioxide helps extinguish a fire by removing the oxygen that facilitates the fire. It also eliminates the heat element because the gas comes out so cold.

Extinguishers containing carbon dioxide as the extinguishing agent kill class B and electrical fires.

Since it’s a pressurized gas, carbon dioxide doesn’t leave a residue when used to extinguish a fire. However, it provides poor post-fire security, meaning the fire can reignite when the gas dissipates, but the heat hasn’t been entirely removed yet.

If yours is a confined space, you might have to avoid using a CO2 extinguisher as it can suffocate people. The way out is to ensure only a professional uses it while wearing the proper respiratory equipment.

You can identify a CO2 extinguisher by its black label.

5. Wet Chemical Extinguishers

Wet Chemical Extinguishers

You can put out class K and class A fires using wet chemical fire extinguishers. Some are ideal for class B fires. If the extinguisher is labeled AK, you can use it for both class A and K fires.

Wet chemical extinguishers have a yellow label. The extinguishing agent in these extinguishers is a mix of alkali salts dissolved in water and held under pressure.

A wet chemical fire extinguisher kills the flames by spraying a fine mist over them, which helps remove the heat element.

If you own or run a hotel with a deep fat fryer, you’ll want to install a wet chemical extinguisher.

Which Fire Extinguisher Type Do You Need?

The fire extinguisher type a business or location needs will vary depending on what materials the premises are exposed to.

Here’s a quick chart to guide you:

Fire ClassFire Risk MaterialFire Extinguisher Class
Class ACombustible material: Textiles, wood, paper, straw, solid plastics, coal, soft furnishings, rubberWet chemical, foam, water mist, water, dry powder
Class BFlammable liquids: Petrol, diesel, paraffin, fuel oilsSome wet chemicals, foam, carbon dioxide, water mist, dry powder
Class CFlammable gases: Propane, hydrogen, methane, butaneDry powder, water mist
Class DCombustible metals: Magnesium, lithium, aluminumSpecial dry powder
Electrical fireElectrical equipmentCarbon dioxide
Class KCooking operations using cooking oil and fatsWet chemical, water mist


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