What Is a Fire Extinguisher?

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What Is a Fire Extinguisher?Why is fire safety important? Fires can and do happen and can have devastating effects. Fire causes disruptions to our businesses and homes, leads to damage and injuries, massive financial losses and often to death. We tend to underestimate the speed at which fire spreads through a building and we often do not realise all the dangers associated with fire. It’s not just the heat and flames we need to be concerned about, but even more so the smoke and toxic gases produced in this process. Effective fire safety measures and procedures can reduce the risk of injury, save lives, and protect our homes and businesses. 

What is a fire extinguisher?

Fire extinguishers are handheld, portable devices that will apply an agent that will either cool the fire or remove oxygen so the fire cannot continue to burn. Fire extinguishers are very effective and quite simple to use. A fire extinguisher used by a trained person is an excellent weapon for early fire prevention and suppression.

Components of a fire extinguisher

  • Cylinder – The red metal cover.
  • Pressure gauge – Indicates the amount of pressure.
  • Nozzle or hose – To deliver the extinguishing agent to the fire.
  • Safety pin and tamper seal – Device to prevent accidental release.
  • Extinguishing agent –  Various agents are used.

Fire Extinguisher Types.

  • Water-based extinguishers (Class A Fire)
  • Dry chemical extinguishers (Class A, B and C Fires)
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers (Class A, B and C Fires)
  • Foam extinguishers (Class A & B Fires)
  • Metal extinguishers (Class D Fires)
  • Wet chemical extinguishers (Class K Fires)

Water extinguishers can only be used on Class A fires.

Dry chemical powder extinguishers can be used on Class A, B and C fires.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are very effective on a Class C fire and can also be used on small Class A and B fires.

Foam extinguishers can be used on Class A and B fires.

Combustible metal extinguishers contain a special dry powder for use on combustible metals.

Wet chemical extinguishers can be used on Class K fires.

Classes of Fire / Classification of fire

Class A fire – Combustible solids like paper, wood, plastic etc.

Class B fire – Combustible liquids like petrol, paraffin, oil etc.

Class C fire – Energised electrical fire.

Class D fire – Combustible metals like Magnesium, Aluminum etc.

Class K fire – Kitchen fires like Oil and fats.

How to use a Fire Extinguisher.

What is a fire? For a fire to occur three elements are needed, Fuel, Heat and Oxygen. These three elements produce a chemical reaction that gives off light and heat. Fire happens when a material rapidly oxidises, or loses electrons, and releases a great amount of energy. Flames are the portion of the fire that gives off the visible light and heat.

There are four steps to follow when using a fire extinguisher, and the acronym PASS is used to describe these four basic steps.

  • Pull – Pull the pin at the top of the extinguisher, breaking the seal.
  • Aim – Aim at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze – Squeeze the handles together to discharge the extinguishing agent inside.
  • Sweep – Sweep the nozzle from side to side.

what is a fire extinguisher

Proper Placement and Maintenance.

All types of extinguishers should be mounted on a wall between 300mm and 1,5m from the ground with signs placed on the wall indicating the position of the Fire Extinguisher. The Fire Extinguishers should be placed in strategic locations where they are easily accessible and visible. There are different types of fire extinguishers for different types of fire. Should you have a specific risk e.g., flammable metal, you should ensure that you have the correct Extinguisher for that specific risk.  Fire Extinguishers should be serviced on an annual basis by a SAQCC competent technician, and a major service should be done between five and ten years depending on the type of extinguisher – SABS 1475.

We should check our Fire Extinguishers monthly ensuring the following:

  • Ensure the Extinguisher is within its service date.
  • Make sure the needle on the pressure gauge is in the green.
  • Make sure the operating label is visible.
  • Check the delivery hose for any cracks or damage.

Choosing the Right Fire Extinguisher: Fire extinguisher types and uses.

It is of critical importance to get the right type of Fire Extinguisher for your home or business. If you use the wrong type of Fire Extinguisher on a fire, you could end up getting seriously injured or even make the fire worse. Dry Chemical Powder Extinguishes can be used on most fires, Class A, B and C and it is always a good choice to have them around. A class C fire extinguisher or electrical fire extinguisher is CO2 and is excellent on Class C fires but can only be used for small Class A and B fires. Water Extinguishers can be used on small Class A fires. A foam extinguisher is a class B fire extinguisher and is very effective on class A and B fires. Wet Chemical Extinguishers are very effective on Kitchen fires. For Flammable Metal Fires, Class D, you need a special Class D Fire extinguisher. They contain a dry powder, normally Metal X.

Legal Requirements and Regulations for Fire Extinguishers.

There are several legal requirements regarding Fire Extinguishers. A good starting point is the SANS 10400 Building Regulations, Local Authority by-laws and the OSH Act 85 of 1993.

It is very important that people receive training in the types of fire extinguishers and their uses so that they know how to use them correctly. Personal safety should be the priority.

Based on the above, Fire Extinguishers have a very important place as they can quickly extinguish a fire that has just started. The correct type of Fire Extinguisher in the right hands can prevent a catastrophe, prevent huge financial losses, and even save lives.

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