How to determine what types of fire extinguishers your facility needs

October 17, 2023

Picture this: you’re a property manager who has recently taken over the management of a facility. As you go through a checklist to ensure all fire & life safety maintenance is covered, you should include an assessment of whether you have the correct types of fire extinguishers in your facility.

Here are a few guidelines to help:

To determine what types of fire extinguishers your facility needs, you should consider the type of fire that is most likely to occur in your environment. Different types of fire extinguishers are designed to extinguish different classes of fires. Here’s a breakdown of the types of fires and the corresponding types of extinguishers:

Class A fires: Ordinary Fires

These are deemed ordinary and involve wood, paper, or cloth combustibles. Despite being ordinary, don’t view it as low risk. The best extinguishers for class A fires are multi-purpose ABC dry chemical, water extinguishers, or foam extinguishers. See the picture below for an example of an ABC extinguisher:

Class B fires: Liquids & Gases

These fires involve flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, propane, tars, solvents, or grease. Water can be hazardous to use on a Class B Fire. This is because Class B fires typically have a fuel with a lower density than water and burning grease is hotter than the boiling point of water (212 degrees Fahrenheit. The most common type of extinguisher for Class B fires is an ABC dry chemical extinguisher, which uses a dry chemical powder to smother and extinguish the fire. See the picture below for an example:

Class C fires: Electrical Fires

These fires involve electrical equipment such as motors, appliances, or power tools. You’re more likely to see class C fires in industrial environments like elevator rooms, electrical closet, manufacturing plants, etc… The most common type of extinguisher for Class C fires is a CO2 (carbon dioxide) extinguisher, which displaces the oxygen around the fire to extinguish it without damaging the electrical equipment. An ABC dry chemical extinguisher is also suitable. See the picture below for an example of a C02 Extinguisher. Note that it has a horn on it which makes it more easily identifiable.

Class D fires: Metallic Fires

These fires involve combustible metals such as magnesium or titanium. Never use water to extinguish a class D fire. Water on a Class D fire will only cause the flame to grow. Specialized Class D extinguishers use a dry powder or sand to extinguish the fire. These extinguishers often have a yellow cylinder. See the picture below for an example:

Class K fires: Grease & Cooking Fires

These fires involve cooking oils and fats, often found in commercial kitchens. Class K extinguishers use a special wet chemical agent that reacts with the hot oils and fats to cool and smother the fire. Commercial kitchens require class K extinguishers. Class K extinguishers almost always have a metal or chrome cylinder. See the picture below for an example:

One important thing to consider with class ABC fires is where they are located. It’s best to use a clean agent extinguisher such as a Halotron or CleanGuard around IT equipment. These are more expensive than an ABC, sometimes by a lot, but will protect your IT & computer equipment much better. The savings are in not having to replace servers, etc… See the picture below for an example:

When selecting a fire extinguisher, it is essential to choose one that is designed for the potential type of fire in an area. Also, verify that the extinguisher has been tested and approved by recognized organizations, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

Once you have determined the most likely type of fire in your environment, you can select the appropriate fire extinguisher. Verify the extinguisher you choose is rated for the size of the potential fire and is accessible and properly maintained. Remember that the fire inspector won’t always tell you what type of extinguisher you need. They are only required to verify what you have is in working order and not the correct type of extinguisher. Always consult a fire safety expert to ensure you have the appropriate fire extinguishers.