A Detailed Look at Fire Extinguishers

Every year, fires caused by cooking, arson, electrical faults, and lightning cause fatalities and injuries to humans as well as damage to property. For this reason, city authorities across the US require public facilities and buildings to have firefighting equipment, including fire extinguishers.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

1. Class A extinguishers

Class A extinguishers are used to put out fires fueled by ordinary combustible materials such as paper, cloth, wood, and the majority of plastics. Extinguishers in this category rely on air pressurized water to put out fires.

2. Class B extinguishers

Fires caused by flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, paint, solvents, and grease require class B extinguishers. The main ingredients used to suppress fires in this category are non-flammable gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). It’s not advisable to use water to extinguish fire caused by a flammable liquid.

3. Class C extinguishers

A class C extinguisher can be used to put out fires caused by electrical equipment/gear such as faulty circuit breakers, faulty wiring, fuse boxes, energized electrical parts, and faulty power outlets. Since such fires also have high risk of electrocution, water-based extinguishers should not be used.

4. Class D extinguishers

Class D extinguisher fight fires fueled by flammable metal powders, shavings, and flakes. This description fits chemicals found in many laboratories like potassium, magnesium, titanium, and sodium.

5. Class K extinguishers

To put out fires that involve combustible cooking fluids like fats and oils, use a class K extinguisher. Since some of the chemical agents/compounds used to suppress kitchen fires are electrically conductive, switch off power outlets first. The active agent in this type of fire extinguisher works by interfering with the chemical reactions that allow fires to continue burning. To use a portable fire extinguisher, aim its nozzle at the source of fire and press the handle to expel compressed agent.

The Importance of Having Fire Extinguishers

To start with, fire extinguishers can save lives if residential or commercial building occupants spot and extinguish a fire during its early stages. Data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) shows that fires in non-residential buildings caused 70 civilian fatalities in 2013.

Another benefit of installing extinguishers is to prevent fire-related injuries. USFA statistics show that the national fire injury rate stands at 56.2 people per one million Americans.

A third benefit is prevention of property damage. NFPA data shows that fires caused non-residential property damage worth $2.6 billion in 2013. Consequently, the NFPA recommends each residential building floor to have one fire extinguisher installed.

Moreover, each extinguisher should be installed near a door or emergency exit point. Residential building locations that satisfy this requirement include front and rear doors because they tend to be centrally located and easily accessible.

The Importance of Regular Fire Extinguisher Inspection

Like any other piece of mechanical equipment, extinguishers are prone to failure. For this reason, it’s wise to have them inspected regularly by a qualified professional once every month. The inspection process should include:

• Confirming that the extinguisher is visible and accessible

• Confirming that the tamper seal is unbroken and the locking pin is intact

• Looking for signs of physical damage such as dents, leakage, or corrosion/rust on the exterior shell of the extinguisher

• Checking the pressure indicator and confirming that it’s in good working condition.

Fire Extinguisher Servicing

Besides inspection, fire extinguishers require regular servicing by qualified individuals. This includes:

• Hydrostatic testing using water or a non-compressible fluid

• Recharging as per inspection recommendations, or if the extinguisher requires topping up after use

• Replacement of faulty parts that do not function as expected

Code Compliance

Portable fire extinguishers sold or installed in buildings in the US must comply with the NFPA 10 standard. This standard is comprised of guidelines on selection, installation, maintenance, inspection, and hydrostatic testing of extinguishers.

NFPA 10 also includes guidelines on education and training of people who are likely to handle fire extinguishers in the event of an emergency. In addition, it includes a list of obsolete fire extinguishers that should not be in use.


According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), cooking accounts for 49.4% and 29.3% of residential and non-residential building fire incidents. Furthermore, fires cause 11 deaths per one million Americans annually. To prevent such fatalities and injuries, buildings should have class A, B, C, D, or K fire extinguishers. Once every month, extinguishers should undergo thorough inspection.

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