Fire Extinguishers

Fire Extinguishers

The discovery of fire is definitely one of man’s greatest innovations. Fire has played an important role in the lives of humans in the past and present. We use fire to prepare our food, as heat source during the cold winter months and so on. While it has a lot of advantages, it is still one of our biggest threats. In a matter of minutes, a fire can destroy a building and structures that took years to build.

Over the years, many types of equipment have been invented to put out firesOpens in a new tab. and prevent them from spreading. Fire extinguishers are likely the most common or popular firefighting equipment on the planet. Almost every building in the US and other developed countries are equipped with a fire extinguisher.

But, what exactly are fire extinguishers? How many types of fire extinguisher are there? How are they made? Why are they so important? Are fire extinguisher fumes dangerous to breathe? These questions will be answered in this article.

Before we take on the first question, there is something to note: Fires are very dangerous. Never should you play with anything that can trigger a fire, read these tips for summer fire safetyOpens in a new tab.. Doing this will put your life and the lives of your loved ones and friends around at risk.

Firefighting equipment is made exclusively to fight fires. Never should you play with them or use them for purposes they were not designed for. They are made to be used to save precious lives and properties in the event of a fire outbreakOpens in a new tab..

Setting off fires alarms as a prank is a dumb move and this is because people are likely going to ignore or pay little attention to them when they go for real. Someone might die as a result. That person could be someone you know, a close friend or a family member. To prevent something like this from happening, you have to use fire equipment onlyOpens in a new tab. when there is an emergency.

If you want to learn how to use a fire extinguisher correctly, then you should make plans to visit the local fire department in your area. Alternatively, you can ask a friend or a relative who knows how to use it to teach you.

Table of Contents

What are fire extinguishers

A fire extinguisher is a fire protection device that is designed to extinguish small fires. It is by no means intended to be used to put out or control large and raging flames. Typically, a regular fire extinguisher is made up of a cylindrical vessel containing special agents that can be discharged to put out a fire. Although there are fire extinguishers that are made with non-cylindrical vessels, they are not common.

History of fire extinguishers

The first fire extinguisher was made by Ambrose Godfrey, in the year 1723. At the time, Ambrose was a decorated chemist and his invention was lauded by many. His extinguisher consisted of a special case of fire-extinguishing liquid carefully placed in a gunpowder chamber. The chamber was strategically connected with a system of fuses. When ignited, the extinguishing liquid will be dispersed.

The modern dry powder fire extinguisher was invented in 1818, by British Captain George William Manby. It consisted of a large copper vessel of 13.6 liters of potassium carbonate solution or Pearl ash contained with compressed air.

In 1866, the soda-acid extinguisher was invented by Francois Carlier of France. It was basically a mixture of sodium bicarbonate and water with tartaric acid, producing the CO2gas.
The Cartridge-operated fire extinguisher was invented in 1881, by Campbell and Read. It is used as a water-based solution. They later invented a carbon tetrachloride model of the extinguisher that was marketed towards the automotive industry.

Aleksandra Loran invented the chemical foam extinguisher in 1904. His invention was based on his previous invention (firefighting foam) that was used to put out a pan of burning naphtha. The working principle of the extinguisher is similar to soda acid type, but the inner parts were not exactly alike. The inner tank contained a solution of aluminum sulphate, while the main tank contained a solution of sodium carbonate and water. When the solution was mixed (this was done by inverting the unit) the two liquids reacts thereby creating carbon (IV) oxide and a frothy foam.
The cartridge-operated dry chemical extinguisher was invented by Dugas in 1928. It used Sodium bicarbonate treated with chemicals to make it moisture-resistant and free-flowing. It consisted of an internal CO2 cartridge and a copper cylinder.

In the 1940s, the liquid chlorobromomethane was invented in Germany for aircraft use. It was less toxic and more effective than carbon tetrachloride. It was extensively used as an extinguishing agent in the 1930s in Europe. Although it was an effective fire extinguisher, its use was abolished in 1969 for the reason being that it was toxic and could cause death when used in confined spaces.

Types of fire extinguishers

In this section, we are going to be looking at the various types of fire extinguishers and when to use them.

Water fire extinguisher

Water fire extinguishers are likely one of the most used fire extinguishers. They are designed to up put out class fires involving flammable solids like wood, textiles, and paper (class A firesOpens in a new tab.). They are a good choice for storage facilities and warehouses.

Never use a water fire extinguisher for:

  • Cooking fire involving grease and oil (class F firesOpens in a new tab.).
  • Fires involving flammable liquids, like paint and petrol (class B firesOpens in a new tab.).
  • Electrical fires (Class E firesOpens in a new tab.) – this could lead to electrocution.
  • Fires involving flammable gasses, like butane and methane (Class C firesOpens in a new tab.).

How to easily identify a water fire extinguisher

  • There is usually a bold label on them stating ‘Water’.
  • You can also identify them with the ID sign that is sometimes attached to them.

Sizes of water fire extinguisher

  • 9 Liters
  • 6 liters
  • 3 liters

Advantages of water fire extinguishers

They can rapidly put out flames, without causing further damage to the environment.

Environments that store a large number of combustible solids may benefit from having a water fire extinguisher. Here are some examples:

  • Textile factories
  • Warehouse
  • Paper mills
  • Storage units

Water fire extinguishers can also be used domestically in homes. They are best paired with CO2 fire extinguishers. This way electrical fire risk is also covered.

Disadvantages of water fire extinguishers

They can only be used to put out class A fires.

The right way to use a water fire extinguisher

The water fire extinguisher is probably the safest to use. All you need to do is to point and spray.

How to use:

  • In the event of a Class A fire, quickly remove the safety pin and stand afar from the fire.
  • Point the nozzle of the extinguisher at the base of the fire and squeeze the handle.
  • Continue spraying until you are 100% sure that the fire is out.

Foam fire extinguishers

Foam fire extinguishers which are also known as AFFF and spray foam are one of the most common types of fire extinguisher. They are generally used for fires involving flammable liquids and solids.

Foam extinguishers are used for the following:

  • They can be used to put out fires involving electrical appliances only if they pass the 35kv conductivity test.
  • They can effectively put out fires involving some flammable liquids like paint, diesel, and petrol (class B fires).
  • They are also suitable for putting out fires involving flammable solids like paper, textile, and wood (Class A fires).

Important note: Foam fire extinguishers are not designed to be used on electrical firesOpens in a new tab..

The 35kv conductivity test is basically an additional safety measure to safeguard users who use a foam extinguisher on an electrical fire. There is a risk of electric shock when foam fire extinguishers are used this way.

It is best you use only Dry powder extinguisher or CO2 extinguisher to put out electrical fires.

Never use a foam fire extinguisher for:

  • Fires involving flammable gasses, such as butane (class C fires).
  • Cooking fires involving grease (class F fires).

How to easily identify foam fire extinguishers

There is usually a label on it stating ‘foam’.

Sizes of foam extinguishers available

  • 9 liter
  • 6 liter
  • 3 liter
  • 2 liter

How a foam fire extinguisher work

Foam extinguishers work in two distinct ways:

  • Firstly, they contain an aqueous film forming foam (This is the reason why they are referred to as AFFF extinguishers)
    AFFF works by sealing in and smothering the flammable vapors. This prevents the fire from spreading and re-igniting. This also makes the foam extinguishers perfect for putting out combustible liquids fires.
  • Secondly, they are water based and have the same cooling effect as the water fire extinguisher, putting the fire out by slowly reducing its temperature.

The advantage of foam fire extinguishers

  • They are non-toxic and safe to use on electrical fires (although this is not recommended).

Foam extinguishers are perfect for premises with multiple fire risks, like:

  • Hotels
  • Factories
  • Garages
  • Warehouse
  • Offices

The disadvantage of foam fire extinguishers

  • Dangerous if used on flammable gas fires and cooking fire.

The right way to use a foam extinguisher

  • In the event of a class A or Class B fire, carefully remove the safety pin and spray its content at the base of the fire.
  • To put out liquid fires, point the extinguisher at the edge of the container. This way, the foam trickles down and drops on the burning liquid.

CO2 fire extinguishers

CO2 or carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are designed to putting out electrical fires. They are used to extinguish flammable liquid related fires. (Class B fires)

CO2 extinguishers are used for the following:

  • Fires involving flammable liquids, like petrol, paint, and diesel (class B fires).
  • Fires involving electrical equipment, like computers (electrical fires).

Never use a CO2 extinguisher for:

  • Cooking fires involving grease or oil (Class F fires)

How to identify a CO2 fire extinguisher

  • The nozzle ends with a special black horn.
  • There is usually a black colored label on it stating ‘CO2’.

Sizes of CO2 fire extinguishers

  • 5 kg
  • 2 kg

How a CO2 fire extinguisher works

CO2 fire extinguishers are designed to disgorge carbon dioxide or CO2 gas. This is stored in liquid form in the extinguisher. The gas is released when the handle of the fire extinguisher is squeezed. They are not suitable for putting out chip pan fires because they could easily blast the flames and cause more damage. Unlike foam and water fire extinguishers, CO2 extinguishers put out fires by cooling it. So, they can’t put out fires involving flammable solids like paper, rubber, and textile. Instead, CO2 extinguisher works by replacing the oxygen that keeps the flame alive and replaces it with CO2.

Advantages of CO2 extinguishers

  • They are very effective on electrical fires.
  • They leave no residue behind.

CO2 fire extinguishers are meant to be used in areas with live electrical fire risks, like:

  • Hospitals.
  • Offices.
  • Schools.
  • Shops.

CO2 Extinguishers are particularly suited for offices and factories where a lot of electrical equipment is used simultaneously.

Disadvantage of CO2 extinguishers

  • They are less environmentally friendly, especially when compared to other types of extinguisher.

The right way to use a CO2 extinguisher

  • Note: Don’t hold the extinguisher by the horn.
  • Remove the safety pin to break and stand behind the fire and aim the horn at the base of the fire.

Wet chemical fire extinguishers

Wet chemical fire extinguishers are designed to put out cooking oil and grease-related fires and are essential safety kit for large and professional kitchens.

The wet chemical extinguisher can be used for the following:

  • To put out fires involving flammable solids, like wood, textile, paper (Class A fires)
  • To extinguish fires involving fats, grease and cooking oils, like olive oil, vegetable oil, and lard (Class F fires)
  • Some wet chemical fire extinguishers can be used to put out class B fires- Those involving flammable liquids like paint, petrol, and diesel. Do well to consult a fire safety professional or check the label before using wet chemical extinguishers to put out Class B fires.

Never use a wet fire extinguisher for the following:

  • Electrical Fires.
  • Fires involving flammable gasses, like butane (Class C fires).
  • Fires involving flammable liquids like petrol, unless they are cleared for this use.

How to identify a wet chemical fire extinguisher

  • It usually has a very long hose with a lance attachment.
  • There is a yellow colored label on it stating ‘Wet Chemical’.

Sizes of wet chemical extinguishers

  • 6 liter.
  • 3 liter.
  • 2 liter.

How a wet chemical extinguisher work

The potent chemical element of wet chemical fire extinguisher is known as Potassium salt. The salt is sprayed out as a fine mist that can instantly react to create a soapy film on the substance that is on fire. This smothers the flame while creating a cooling effect.

Advantages of wet chemical extinguishers

  • They are the only extinguisher that can effectively put out cooking oil and fat-related fires.

Wet chemical extinguishers are suitable for:

  • Any premises with a large or professional kitchen should have a wet chemical fire extinguisher.
  • Hotel kitchens
  • Restaurants
  • Burger bars
  • Fish and chip shops

Disadvantages of wet chemical extinguishers

They often produce toxic fumes when used.

The right way to use a wet chemical fire extinguisher

Wet chemical extinguishers are to be used with extreme care, to avoid splashing oil and burning fat into surrounding areas.

How to use:

  • Remove the safety pin and stand within a reasonable distance away from the fire.
  • Aim and spray in slow, circular movements, allowing the content of the extinguisher to settle on the surface of the fire.

Dry powder fire extinguishers

They are versatile and can extinguish every kind of fire; however, they are not recommended for use in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces.

They are also known as:

  • Dry chemical fire extinguishers
  • ABC fire extinguisher
  • Multi-purpose fire extinguishers

The standard dry powder fire extinguishers can be used for the following:

  • For putting out fires involving flammable liquids (Class B fires), such as diesel, petrol, and paint
  • For putting out fires involving flammable gases (Class C fires), like methane and butane
  • For extinguishing fires involving electrical equipment
  • For putting out flammable solids (Class A fires) like wood and paper

The specialist dry powder extinguisher is used for the following:

  • L2 powder extinguisher are used exclusively to put out fires involving flammable, lithium.
  • M28 powder extinguisher are used only to put out other flammable metals excluding lithium.

Never Use a dry powder fire extinguisher for the following:

  • Fires in poorly ventilated or enclosed spaces.
  • To put out electrical equipment fires over 1000v.
  • Fires involving cooking grease and oil (Class F fires).

How to identify Dry powder fire extinguishers

There is usually a blue label on them stating ‘Powder’.

Sizes of dry powder fire extinguisher

  • 9 kg
  • 6 kg
  • 3 kg
  • 2 kg
  • 1 kg

How a dry powder extinguisher work

Dry powder fire extinguisher put flames by forming a barrier between oxygen and fuel. Since they don’t cool the flame, there is a chance that the flame may re-ignite.

Advantages of dry powder fire extinguishers

  • They can effectively put out most types of fires.
  • The specialist dry powder extinguisher is the only type of extinguisher that can put out flammable metal related fires.

Dry powder extinguishers are perfect for outdoor environmentsOpens in a new tab. with the risk of various types of fire, especially those involving vehicles, chemicals, and fuel. Below are some examples:

  • Large workshops
  • Garage forecourts
  • Fuel takers
  • Flammable liquid facilities
  • Massive, commercial boiler rooms

Disadvantage of dry powder fire extinguishers

When discharged, the powder can spread over very large area leaving vision-obscuring residues that can be inhaled if used in poorly ventilated areas.

The right way to use a dry powder fire extinguisher

Important note: Never use a dry powder extinguisher in enclosed areas.

How to use:

  • Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire and move it back and forth until the fire is out.

Water mist fire extinguishers

The water mist fire extinguisher is a new type of extinguisher that is designed to tackle general fires and Deep fat fryer related fires. As you probably know, deep fat fryers are very difficult to put out. They can safely be put out by wet chemical extinguisher and fire blankets.

Types of water mist fire extinguishers

  • The standard 9I water extinguisher
  • 61 water mist extinguisher

What are water mist extinguishers made of

They contain demineralized water. Hence, they leave no residues. This makes them perfect for food preparation factories.

Advantages of water mist extinguishers

  • They create little or no mess to clean after a fire.
  • They are the perfect green choice. No chemical is contained in it.
  • The extinguisher can be used to put out various types of fires.
  • They are safe to use.

How a water mist extinguisher work

The nozzle of the extinguisher is designed to disperse microscopic water, mist particles to extinguish fires and burning materials. The particles in the solution reduce oxygen content and cool down the fire. They are safe for use on papers, wood, textile, fat, and flammable liquids.

Are they safe to use on electrical fires?

The droplets created by the water mist extinguisher are so small that electricity can’t travel through them. Also, it contains de-ionized water that cannot carry electric current. Since they have been tested with 35000 volts, you can be confident that they are safe to use on live electrical equipment.

Clean agent extinguishers

Just like carbon dioxide, clean agent extinguisher is an excellent fire suppressant that is stored as a liquid under very high pressure that turns to gas when discharged. They were developed as an environmentally acceptable alternative to Halon, which is now banned in many countries. Clean agent extinguisher is effective against Class B and C related fires. They work by smothering a flame without causing damage to electronic equipment or leaving any residue. Since they don’t conduct electricity, they are effective on electrical fires.

Sizes of clean agent extinguishers

  • 1 kg
  • 2 kg

They are best suited for computer rooms, boats, art storage, data storage areas, telecoms, and clean rooms.

Cartridge extinguishers

Cartridge fire extinguishers are special extinguishers designed to put out Class A, B, and C related fire. They work by interrupting or creating a barrier between oxygen and the fuel element.

Sizes of cartridge extinguishers

  • 9 litres
  • 6 litre

Chemicals used in fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers contain different chemical agent, depending on their use and application. For example, hand-held fire extinguishers, which are commonly used in fire-prone areas like the kitchen and garage, are pressurized with either carbon (iv) oxide or nitrogen. These elements propel the fire quenching elements embedded in the extinguisher to put out a live fire.

The active or fire quenching elements may be an evaporating fluorocarbon, liquid water or the propelling agent itself. On the other hand, the active is a powder like potassium bicarbonate.

The most common and effective fluorocarbon used in most extinguisher until recently is bromochlorodifluoromethane or halon 1211. By International agreement, the production of all types of halon where to be stopped in 1994. And this is because the chlorine and bromine atom in chemical can mitigate the stratosphere and deplete ozone quickly.

Since the use of halons was scrambled by the government, many researchers have been looking for an alternative that is environmentally friendly. None has been found with all the positive qualities of halon 1301 and 1211. The problem is that the chlorine and bromine that do the most damage to atmospheric ozone are the same elements that aggressively feed on hydrogen atoms, which are critical to maintaining a combustion reaction.

Water sprinklers are like the most popular type of extinguisherOpens in a new tab. obviously because they are inexpensive, reliable and safe to use. But they aren’t really the best option for facilities or areas filled with tech gadget and computers. In such facilities, a fire extinguisher will do more harm than good.

Even more, water fire extinguishers aren’t effective against certain types of fire (Class B, C and F fires).

CO2 fire extinguishers that can effectively put out electrical fires among others cannot be in enclosed areas or where a lot of people are present.

Presently, researchers are trying out materials like phosphorous and iron that contain hydro fluorocarbon- with flame inhibiting properties. They are also developing better discharging chemicals like CO2 and N2.

Importance of fire extinguishers

The role that fire extinguishers play in our lives is very important. And this is obviously because they can effectively put out small fires that if left unchecked can destroy properties and claim lives.

The often overlooked devices can keep you and your family to be safe in the event of a fireOpens in a new tab. emergency. Some business owners view fire extinguisher simply as red cans hanging on the wall. But these red cans serve a very important purpose. They can prevent a small fire from spreading and causing large-scale damage.

According to the (NFPA) National Fire Protection Association, fires can be smothered or diminished by the use of a fire extinguisher. For residential buildings and medical facilities, the presence of a fire extinguisher can provide a lot of benefitsOpens in a new tab..

The role of fire extinguisher

In more than 80% of all fire incidents, a portable fire extinguisher is needed to smother out a flame and prevent it from spreading. Numerous studies have shown that 60% of fires go un-notified. This means that the fire wasn’t intense and can be extinguished with a portable fire extinguisherOpens in a new tab..

Fire extinguishers in the school environment

Do you remember the regular fire drill in the school you attended? Also, do you remember learning how to use a fire extinguisher in school? Knowing the right wayOpens in a new tab. to use a fire extinguisher is critical especially if you want to keep yourself and the ones you love safe in any fire emergency situation.

Fire extinguishers are becoming more and more important in schools and learning facilities because they are the fires line of defence against a raging flame. As you probably know, there is nothing as important as protecting the lives of little kids.

Read this articleOpens in a new tab. which I talked about the fire drills in school.

Fire extinguishers are the environment

Granted fire extinguishers are designed to put out small fires, like campfire for instance. But do you know that it can have a positive impact on the environment? Since they have the ability to smother flames that can cause large-scale damage within a matter of minutes, they are indirectly limiting the amount of pollution caused by burning debris and smoke.

Are fire extinguisher fumes dangerous to breathe?

If you accidentally breathe in some fire extinguisher fumes, you are likely going to be worried sick because you don’t know if they are toxic or can do serious damage to your body. While some extinguisher fumes are very toxic, others are notOpens in a new tab.. To be on the safe side, it is best you do you’re absolute most to not inhale any fire extinguisher fumes for long periods. And, in any case, seek professional medical aid.

The toxicity of fire extinguisher fumes varies. For example, CO2 fire extinguisher fumes are likely more toxic than clean agent and wet chemical fumes.

Below are some steps you should take if you come in contact with dry chemical extinguisher fumes.

Skin exposure

In case of contact, quickly wash with water and seek medical attention if you experience any form of irritation.


If you experience respiratory irritation after inhaling it, try to get some fresh air and seek medical attention later on.


Drink two to three glass of water and don’t induce vomiting. Seek medical attention immediately.

To prevent aspiration of swallowed residue, lay on your side. If vomiting occurs, drink more water to dilute the chemical.

An existing medical condition can aggravate the exposure. Inhalation of the product can worsen a pre-existing respiratory problem like bronchitis, asthma, and emphysema.

Final note

Fire extinguishers play a very important role in our lives. They can effectively put out small flames and prevent them from spreading and causing large-scale damage. Since there are different types of fires, it is important that you learn about the various types of fire extinguisher. Doing this will put you in an excellent position, to determine the right fire extinguishers to use in the event of a fire outbreakOpens in a new tab.. Remember those fire extinguishers are not toys, so use them with extreme care so that you do not cause injury to yourself and those around you.

If you already have fire extinguishers, check our this helpful articleOpens in a new tab. which I discussed about maintaining them – how it should be done right.

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