The Complete Guide to Fire Extinguisher Types and Placement

When shopping for a fire extinguisher, there is no room for error. There are several different fire extinguisher types, each designed to combat certain fires depending on how they started. This guide explains the five main categories of fire extinguishers to help you understand which one you need.

Fire Extinguisher Type

All fire extinguishers share the same end goal — to extinguish flames — but the method between them varies. Different types of fires need certain approaches to put them out and the method often depends on the source of the blaze itself. This is why the type of fire extinguisher you find in your apartment hallway and commercial kitchen are usually different, even if they look similar.

Choosing the right fire extinguisher for your setting may be the difference between a disaster and an averted crisis. From the moment the very first flames kindle, the situation needs fast, aggressive, and precise corrective action. Luckily, fire extinguishers are organized into clearly defined categories, rather than confusing brands and product codes. There are 5 common types that you’ll see when shopping for an extinguisher, which we will walk you through below. 

  • Class A: Level One Fighter.
    If we classified fire extinguishers based on difficulty level, Class A will be the lowest. It is designed to combat fires caused by basic causes, which are usually the most straightforward to extinguish.

    Dry leaves, sticks, wood, and dry organic matter are among the most flammable materials in the natural world. So much so that they can be ignited by lightning or even spontaneous combustion — this was likely mankind’s earliest discovery of fire.Nature tends to burn fast, which means that the fire is actually easier to extinguish and no strong pressure is required. In fact, excessive effort (such as hard pressure or fumes) in putting out this kind of fire may result in health problems.

    Class A extinguishers are designed to work with the lightest pressure, which can be achieved with several different chemicals  A class A extinguisher may use water, foam, dry chemical, or mist. Models often come in different price points, with varying recommended usages. You are advised to choose the option you are most comfortable with.

  • Class B: Oil Bender

    Have you ever heard the old adage, ‘Don’t add fuel to the fire’? In the metaphorical sense, it’s given as advice to stop someone from worsening a situation. This famous quote has its origins in reality; never pour flammable liquid on a fire, otherwise it will get bigger, and possibly, out of control. Although it sounds obvious, people often reach for the nearest liquid in a moment of panic. You want to make sure that liquid isn’t flammable.

    Any liquids that burn easily are classified as flammable. These include alcohol (ethanol), petrol, diesel, kerosene, methanol, benzene, and acetone. Those chemicals are often found in common household products, such as nail polish remover, hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, cleaning products, and paint thinners.

    Class B fire extinguishers are effective in extinguishing fires burning on flammable liquids. These fires need a specific type of extinguisher because adding liquid-vapor and water will actually fuel the fire. Class B firefighters smother the fire by cutting out the oxygen source, which is what keeps fires burning.

    Class B extinguisher is the perfect opponent for flammable liquid and can rapidly cover a large room. When buying a class B extinguisher, you are advised to read the extinguisher rate to establish the area that the extinguisher can cover. For example, an 8B extinguisher signifies its capability to cover 8 square feet.
  • Class C: Electric Control

    Electricity is everywhere — from your phone charger to an automatic fire sprinkler on your ceiling. You may be aware that this electricity can occasionally spark fires, but perhaps you did not know that it needs a specific type of fire extinguisher to control it.

    USFA (U.S Fire Administration) reports that 83 percent of fire caused by electricity happens in residential buildings. 43 percent due to malfunction and 31% triggered by an electrical wire or cable insulation. As the data suggests, electrical fires are one of the most common types of fires and are the type that most people are likely to encounter.

    Again, electrical fires have niche requirements for extinguishing. They cannot be extinguished by water, as this is electrically conductive and can lead to fatal electric shocks. The safest way to put out an electrical fire is to disconnect the power first. The catch 22 is that the electrical units are likely to be too hot to touch and could also cause an electric shock.

    Class C fire extinguisher works by separating fuel, heat, and oxygen — the three things a fire needs to burn. It does so by choking the fire out with an intense blast of carbon dioxide or with powder and foam. By doing so, the extinguisher buys you time to shut down the power source. Once the mains power supply is switched off, water is safe to use to extinguish any residual flames. Crisis averted!
  • Class D: Metal Beater
    Metals are commonly used for their heat conducting properties. However, occasionally, this can lead to fires — some metals conduct heat so effectively that they begin to burn up.Magnesium, sodium, aluminum, and titanium are all metals that trigger a fire. Metal fires can become ragingly hot very quickly — so hot that a human cannot even get close enough to extinguish it. Once magnesium ignites, its temperature rises rapidly until it reaches 5,610 degrees Fahrenheit. As a comparison, the human body burns at 932 degrees minimum. Swift action must be taken and, ideally, using a class D fire extinguisher.Water is no match for the astronomical temperature of a metal fire; any water would simply evaporate on contact. Class D extinguishers are specifically designed to use a medium that does not react with burning metal. So far, powder-based extinguishers are the only product rated as class D.
  • Class K: Perfect for Kitchen
    You can’t cook without heat and/or flames, making the kitchen a prime fire hazard.  One mistake and you might burn the whole kitchen down, or worse, lose your property.  This is why it’s critical to pay extra attention to which fire extinguisher type you keep in the kitchen.

    Grease is the main reason that fire in kitchens escalates faster than any other type. The cooking oil or leftover fats from your meal pass on heat and keep the flames going. On top of that, grease build-up can compromise your fire sprinkler effectiveness.

    Class A, B, C, and D extinguishers cannot handle the speed and temperature of kitchen fires. Thus, class K fire extinguishers were born. The class K extinguisher has a special ability to set a ‘barrier’ and stop the flame from spreading. The Class K barrier also cuts off the oxygen and cools the temperature. In return, the kitchen fire is successfully put out. 

Where should you place your fire extinguisher? 

Each fire extinguisher has its own capability and needs to be stored in the right location. The very first step is to assess what the fire risk is. Take a look around and list every single thing that might combust. By making a risk assessment (taking into account the likelihood and potential size of the fire) you can make an informed decision about where to put your fire extinguisher. Although a fire sprinkler helps a lot, it’s always safest to have a fire extinguisher as a backup option — especially when the likelihood leans towards flammable liquid, electrical, metal or kitchen fires. 

Finally, the importance of maintenance 

Lastly, but by no means least — having the right kind of fire extinguisher in the right place is only effective if the equipment is maintained. This requires regular inspection, best done annually by a licensed professional. 

Certified fire safety services, such as CertiPro Fire and Life Safety, can work with you to ensure that your building is prepared for a fire, should the worst happen. This involves monitoring your inspection schedule, your maintenance, and providing 24/7 support. CertiPro Fire and Life Safety is ready to solve any fire extinguisher problems, day or night. 

If you are interested in achieving the gold standard of fire safety for your home and family, please get in touch with CertiPro Fire and Life Safety at 1 480 829 7600 or fill in the request form.