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Fire extinguishers have evolved from simple water-can extinguishers to
ones now designed to combat different types of fires. While the
availability of portable extinguishers makes it possible to control
fires before they grow into larger blazes, knowing which kind of
extinguisher to use on a fire depends upon understanding the nature of
the material that is burning. Taking the time to be aware of an
portable fire extinguisher's capabilities is one way to be proactive
about fire safety.
Class A extinguishers are designed to extinguish
items that are classified as ordinary combustibles. Ordinary
combustibles are defined as any natural material such as wood, rubber
and cloth. Typically, Class A extinguishers are filled with pressurized
water, since these fires can be easily controlled.
Class B extinguishers are intended to be used on
flammable liquids such as refined petroleum products, greases and
solvents. These fre extinguishers use either carbon dioxide or a dry
chemical compound as the suppression material. This is because water
will spread, rather than suppress, these liquids when they are on fire.
Class C fires involve electrically charged
appliances and tools. Since water reacts with electricity, these
extinguishers use either carbon dioxide gas or a dry chemical powder as
the suppression material. If it is practical to de-energize the
appliance, the fire can then be treated as a Class A fire, since the
electrical hazard has been mitigated.
Flammable metals, such as magnesium and lithium, are
classified as Class D fires. While these most often occur in a
commercial factory settings, they can occur anywhere these metals are
used, such as in motor vehicle engines or batteries. The most common
suppression material found in a Class D extinguisher is dry chemical
powder. These fires are also identifiable since they burn in colors
other than yellow and orange, due to the particular metals.
Class K fires are a relatively new classification
that involve combustible cooking materials. These cooking fats and
greases, while similar to Class B products, are typically found in
commercial kitchens, where they are kept in large quantities. The
amount of the material, however, does not affect its classification,
since any amount of the material, when burning, would be considered a
Class K fire.
All of these types of portable fire extinguishers
are designed to extinguish a small contained fire. This means that the
fire is typically confined to a single surface or container, such as a
wastebasket. Before attempting to use the extinguisher, ensure you have
an escape route that is not blocked by fire. Additionally, because of
the weight and amount of force needed to use an extinguisher, some
people may not possess the physical strength needed to safely operate
Some extinguishers are capable of being used on more
than one type of fire. These extinguishers will be clearly labeled so
that the users will know what kinds of fires it may be used on. These
portable fire extinguishers generally use a dry chemical powder as the
suppression material, since it is often the least-reactive to multiple
types of fire.