Can you think of one piece of fire safety equipment which fire protection services companies get asked for more often than any other? Most of you who tried to answer would likely have said a fire extinguisher, and you would be correct. From the smallest one-roomed office to the largest manufacturing plant you can imagine, one or more fire extinguishers will be there.
The reasons for this are many, including the fact that fire extinguishers are convenient, they do not take up much space, they are relatively easy to operate, and in terms of their cost, they are affordable, compared to many of the more comprehensive fire protection options. As such, unless fire regulations state otherwise, and your building requires fire sprinklers for example, a fire extinguisher is going to be the first available option when it comes to putting out a fire.
We mentioned that fire extinguishers are easy to operate and that is true. In most cases, it is a case of removing a pin, pointing the hose or outlet at the appropriate part of the fire, and then pressing the lever. Despite this simplicity of use, it is advisable that all staff are given brief instructions fire extinguisher use as part of their induction or initial training.
Part of that training also should include details about the different types of fire extinguisher that are on your premises. We say this because in Australia, and indeed most parts of the world, there are different classifications of fire extinguisher. In Australia, the number of classifications is 5, and the larger and more complex the premises you have, the more likely it is that you have two or more of these.
Obviously, there needs to be some way of identifying each fire extinguisher, and the most basic way this is done is via colours. We will classify those colours in the next section, but we must point out that it is not the colour of the extinguisher that you are looking for, but for a coloured band that is normally near the top of it. Most fire extinguishers are predominantly red in colour so do not let this confuse you into thinking its classed as ‘Red’ with regards to its use.
WATER – RED: Used to extinguish ‘Class A’ fires which are usually those which involve materials such as paper, wood, cloth, and plastics. This fire extinguisher should never be used on liquid or electrical fires.
FOAM – CREAM: Foam fire extinguishers can be used for Class A fires but more importantly, they are safe for use in fighting Class B liquid fires such as those involving petrol and paints. These tend to be found in industrial premises rather than offices and domestic residences.
DRY POWER – BLUE: One of the most versatile extinguishers as not only can it be used for Class A and B materials, but it is also suitable for Class C (flammable gases) and Class D (flammable metals). It can also be used for electrical fires where the voltage is 1000 volts or less.
CO2 – BLACK: This is found in most factories and is the primary fire extinguisher when it comes to fighting electrical fires, which are designated Class E. CO2 can be used on both low and high voltage fires.
WET CHEMICAL – YELLOW: Relatively rare but it can be found on premises where very high temperatures might be a risk if a fire were to start. Specifically, this is used for Class F fires which involve cooking fats, such as those found in deep fat fryers.