Fire safety is no joke and having a solid idea of different fire extinguisher types can be the difference between life and death.
Even if you think you might never need to know this life-changing information, you never know what might happen.
Read on to learn about the different fire extinguisher types, how to use fire extinguishers, and how to dispose of fire extinguishers when they’re empty.
Fire Extinguishers And How They Work
Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, a fire extinguisher is a portable, medium-sized device – typically painted red – that is used to put out fires if they start. There are several fire extinguisher types, and different fire extinguishers work better for specific types of fires.
Just as you shouldn’t put water on a grease fire, making sure to treat specific types of fires with their associated fire extinguisher will help you handle emergencies with little to no panic or injuries.
A fire happens when three elements are combined in a specific way:
- A type of fuel (this can be a liquid, combustible solid, or gas)
- Oxygen (this will react with the fuel)
- Heat (this has to be enough to take an item past its burning temperature, which will cause it to ignite if the other two elements are also there)
Since these three elements cause fires, it stands to reason that – to stop a fire – you just have to remove one (or more) of these elements. In most cases, it’s easiest to remove the fuel or the heat, although that can be harder with forest fires and the like.
All fire extinguisher types work in similar ways – their goal is to remove these three elements from each other. For example, a carbon-dioxide fire extinguisher removes oxygen from the fire and replaces it with carbon dioxide instead (which won’t keep the fire going).
Luckily, even with multiple fire extinguisher types, if you need to know how to dispose of a fire extinguisher after it’s empty, it’s pretty simple.
How To Use Fire Extinguishers
When it comes to fire extinguisher types, you don’t have to worry too hard about how to use fire extinguishers. They all use the same method, so if you’re having to fight a fire, just remember . . . P.A.S.S!
P.A.S.S. is an easy way to help you remember how to use fire extinguishers. It stands for:
- P = Pull the pin (which will break the seal meant to prevent tampering. If your fire extinguisher is “new” but the tamper seal is broken, get a new fire extinguisher!)
- A = Aim the fire extinguisher nozzle or hose at the base of the fire. Aim as low as possible. (Also, try not to touch the plastic parts of the fire extinguisher. It can get very cold.)
- S = Squeeze the handle. This will force whatever chemical or agent is in the fire extinguisher to be discharged. Make sure you’re aiming at the fire!
- S = Sweep from side to side. You’re going to want to use a side-to-side motion when aiming at the base of the fire.
Repeat steps 2-4 until the fire is out. Then wait to see if it re-ignites. If it doesn’t re-ignite, you’re safe. If it re-ignites, repeat steps 2-4.
Fire Extinguisher Types
When it comes to fire extinguisher types, there are only a few main ones.
Water Fire Extinguisher
These fire extinguishers have a red “water” label on the canister which is most of the time also colored in red to be visible. The air-pressurized water fire extinguisher uses a mix of tap water that has been pressurized (to give it force), meaning that it’s a giant, heavy squirt gun or super soaker.
How It Works
Water extinguisher types, this particular fire extinguisher tries to remove the “heat” from the three elements. It uses water to try and cool down whatever fire is occurring.
Do Not Use With
- Flammable liquid fires
- Electrical fires
- Oil Based Fires
Because this is just water, make sure to take care when firing it near – not at! – any electrical equipment. Even during a fire, water and electricity don’t mix!
Dry Powder Fire Extinguishers
If you’ve ever seen a fire extinguisher, it was likely a dry chemical fire extinguisher. When it comes to fire extinguisher types, this is the most common. You may have heard them called “dry chemical” or “dry powder,” but they are basically interchangeable.
These fire extinguisher types often contain baking soda, which is why it comes out as a white powder when you distribute it.
Dry chemical fire extinguishers are used to combat the types of fires that might commonly occur in the home: wood, paper, gasoline, grease, or electrical fires. These are some of the easiest elements to ignite, so it’s great that when it comes to fire extinguisher types, this one extinguisher can combat all these types of fires.
How It Works
Rather than specifically trying to make a gas (like oxygen) inert so that it can’t interact with the fuel and the heat, dry chemical fire extinguishers try to coat the fuel with a solid that won’t react with the other elements.
The inert solid of choice might be similar to dirt or sand (both of which are great for putting out these types of fires). The solid is typically made up of baking soda – or another element very similar to it – which then coats the fuel and smothers the fire.
Do Not Use With
- Cooking fires
- Fires that occur in enclosed spaces
- Fires that start around electrical equipment that exceed a voltage of 1000 volts.
Foam Fire Extinguishers
When it comes to fire extinguisher types, another common one you’ve likely encountered is the foam fire extinguisher. If, for whatever reason, you’re around a fire but you don’t have access to a wet chemical fire extinguisher or a dry chemical fire extinguisher, you can seek out a foam fire extinguisher.
When it comes to fire extinguisher types, this one gets its name from the foam that it discharges when you use it. Foam fire extinguishers have a lot of overlap with the dry chemical and wet chemical fire extinguishers.
They are good for Class A and Class B fires, which is wood, paper, and textile fires, and flammable liquids (all things that are likely to catch fire in a home – rather than an industrial building or laboratory).
How It Works
When it comes to foam fire extinguishers, these fire extinguisher types use a product composed of a foam concentrate. When this foam concentrate is sprayed at a fire, it creates a thin film between the fuel and the oxygen.
This film prevents the fuel and oxygen from mixing, which will suppress the chemical reaction that keeps a fire going. In most cases, the foam is made up of a mixture of water and solvents that creates a cooling effect on the water (making it harder to keep the fire going/reigniting).
Do Not Use With
- As with many of the other fire extinguisher types on this list, this one should not be used with live electrical equipment.
Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguishers
Some guides that focus on fire extinguisher types will mention something called a “clean agent” fire extinguisher. Consider the “clean agent fire extinguisher” as an umbrella term, under which carbon dioxide fire extinguishers exist.
When a fire extinguisher is referred to as a “clean agent,” it just means that, after discharging the extinguisher, there isn’t any residue leftover that needs to be cleaned up!
In movies, when fire extinguishers are discharged, everything is covered in a white powder that looks nearly impossible to clean up . . . and certain fire extinguishers are accurately depicted by this!
However, it’s not the case for all fire extinguishers, and carbon dioxide fire extinguishers do not require much cleanup afterward.
How It Works
This is one of the more interesting extinguishers on the list, as only a few fire extinguisher types targets multiple elements on the fire chart. Primarily, a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher goes after the “oxygen” element.
(This is the type of fire extinguisher that was mentioned earlier.) A CO2 fire extinguisher works by removing the oxygen from a fire and replacing it with carbon dioxide. In this particular case, carbon dioxide is inert, meaning it won’t react with the fuel or the heat.
Speaking of the heat, the CO2 remains at a very low temperature when inside the fire extinguisher, meaning that when it’s discharged, it also works to cool/remove the heating element from the three-element-fire-starting situation.
Do Not Use With
- Fires involving paper
- Fires involving wood and fabric
- Fires involving flammable gasses
You shouldn’t use a CO2 extinguisher with these things because they tend to re-ignite due to the extreme amount of oxygen they produce. This means that the CO2 can’t replace the oxygen fast enough to make a difference.
Wet Chemical Fire Extinguishers
When speaking of different fire extinguisher types, wet chemical fire extinguishers work best with fires that are caused by cooking mistakes or fires that involve a lot of fat and oils. The reason for this is that wet chemical fire extinguishers are less pressurized than other fire extinguisher types.
This means that, especially when dealing with oil and fats which are both slippery, there is not enough pressure from this fire extinguisher to launch the burning oil elsewhere and spread the fire.
How It Works
Similar to the CO2 fire extinguisher, this fire extinguisher also manages to target two of the elements on the fire chart. However, rather than switching oxygen to CO2, this fire extinguisher contains a solution of potassium mist.
As the cold CO2 in the CO2 fire extinguisher cools the heat, the potassium mist in this fire extinguisher tries to lower the temperature to stop the fire from spreading. Then, the potassium that makes up the mist will react with the hot oil and create a soapy foam that separates the fuel from the heat and the oxygen.
These fire extinguisher types are typically bright red with a yellow tag across the front that says, “Wet Chemical.”
Do Not Use With
- Flammable liquids
- Flammable gasses
- Live electrical equipment
How To Dispose Of Your Used And Old Fire Extinguishers
So, you’ve used your fire extinguisher. Or maybe it’s very old and you need to get a new one.
Whatever the case, it’s always a good idea to know how to dispose of fire extinguishers no matter which fire extinguisher types we’re talking about.
The rules and regulations surrounding fire extinguisher disposal differ from state to state, but in most cases, you can either:
- Call your local fire department and see if they have a system in place to drop off partial or empty extinguishers
- Dispose of the extinguisher in a hazardous waste disposal facility – these places are equipped to take them, and the staff can answer any questions you have.
Luckily, knowing how to dispose of fire extinguishers is simple, so you don’t have to worry about messing it up.
Stay Knowledgeable, Stay Safe
So as long as you know the different fire extinguisher types and what they’re used for, you’ll be able to stay calm in an emergency and get it handled swiftly and easily.
Don’t sleep on this knowledge. Focus on your safety and learn about these fire extinguisher types!