LEARN HOW TO SELECT AND MAINTAIN THE PROPER ONE FOR YOUR NEEDS!
First, it is important to understand the classification of fires when selecting the appropriate type of fire extinguisher. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fires can be classified as:
Class A—Fires involving common combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber, trash, and plastics. They are common in typical commercial and home settings.
Class B—Fires involving flammable liquids, gases, solvents, oils, gasoline, paint, lacquers, tars, and other oil-based products. These fires often spread rapidly and can re-flash after the flames are extinguished.
Class C—Fires involving energized electrical equipment such as wiring, controls, motors, data processing panels, or appliances. They can be caused by a spark, power surge, or short circuit and typically occur in locations that are difficult to reach and see.
Class D—Fires involving combustible metals such as magnesium and sodium. These fires are unique industrial hazards that require special dry powder agents to extinguish.
Class K—Fires involving combustible cooking media such as oils and grease commonly found in commercial kitchens. The new cooking media formulations used for commercial food preparation require a special wet chemical-extinguishing agent that is specially suited for extinguishing and suppressing these extremely hot fires that have the ability to re-flash.
These classifications are extremely important because the wrong extinguisher could make the fire worse and lead to additional property damage or injury. For example, water should not be used to put out a Class C fire, since it presents a shock hazard. Also, a water extinguisher would only make a Class B fire worse. Fire extinguishers are labeled in such a manner as to clearly identify the class of fires that they can extinguish. The new labeling system for fire extinguishers uses pictures to indicate what types of fires they can be used on with red diagonal lines through the types of fires they should not be used on.
Fire extinguishers also come with number ratings to indicate how large a fire they can contain. For example, Class A extinguishers may have the numeric rating of 1, which would indicate 1 gallon of extinguishing material. A higher rating number indicates increased levels of fire fighting protection in each progressive extinguisher. The number ratings on Class B or C fire extinguishers indicate how many square feet of coverage the unit will contain. For example, a numeric rating of 5BC indicates 5 square feet of coverage area for Class B and C fires. A multipurpose fire extinguisher (dry chemical) will cover up to 3,000 square feet for Class A fires and 10 square feet for B and C fires. Fire extinguishers are commonly carbon dioxide, water, or a multipurpose dry chemical agent, depending on the classification of fire present.
An employer or property owner is responsible for ensuring that the inspection, maintenance, and testing of all portable fire extinguishers are conducted. Portable fire extinguishers shall be visually inspected monthly to ensure they are not blocked, are fully charged, and are not damaged. Furthermore, each portable fire extinguisher should be serviced annually by a qualified company, and a hydrostatic test should be completed as required to ensure the extinguisher is fully functional.
In conclusion, fire extinguishers are extremely important tools to help minimize property damage and prevent serious and even fatal injuries. Knowing what types of fires you could have and maintaining your fire extinguishers could save your property and many lives.
Loss Control Representative
Source: Yates, David. Safety Professional’s Reference and Study Guide. CRC Press: New York, 2011.