The different types of fire extinguishers and fire safety equipment.
As fire safety has become more and more the focal point of any health and safety issue, either in the workplace or at home, the resulting fires breaking out have become less and less as time goes by.
This is due to people being more aware of the dangers, and being better equipped with the right training and proper equipment to fight and prevent fires from spreading (or breaking out in the first place). The Five Classes of Fire
Fire Extinguisher types
First of all let’s talk about the different classes of fire:
- Class A fires – Fires involving solid combustible materials (Like paper, wood, etc.)
- Class B fires – Fires involving flammable Liquids (Such as petrol, thinners, etc.)
- Class C fires – Fires involving flammable Gasses (Such as Propane, Butane, etc.)
- Class D fires – Fires involving metals (Such as magnesium, aluminium, etc.)
As electricity doesn’t inherently burn, electrical fires have been left out as they tend to be put into one of the four classes (depending on the nature of the fire). However, never use a water extinguisher on an electrical fire, unless the electrical power has definitely been isolated.
Only recently have the British Standards Institution (BSI) introduced a new fire safety classification – “Class F” fires have been introduced as a label for fires created by burning oil. The biggest problem with oil fires is that of the risk they face of spreading if an extinguisher is used that propels its contents at a rapid rate, as this can easily spread the fire to other areas of the room. Water when used on oil fires can cause the fire to expand in size, and can cause the fire to spread further (or even explode into a fire ball!).
Only wet chemical extinguishers and fire blankets should be used to contain and remove the fire if it involves oil/cooking media.
Note: Halon, despite being considered the best form of extinguisher, is extremely damaging to the environment, and this is why the gas has been banned from both the UK fire extinguishers and the US.
All extinguishers are relatively safe to use apart from (the black Labelled) CO2. In the event of having to use this extinguisher you are limited to only class A, B and electrical fires. Co2 is toxic to humans so make sure that when you use it, no people are stood between you and the fire, and also make sure that you don’t hold the nozzle as the Co2 is so cold that your hand will stick to it, possibly resulting in you having to visit hospital to have it removed.
Normally found in most industrial or domestic kitchens. The fire blanket works by suffocating the fire, removing one of the three elements that make a fire, in this case oxygen.
Fire blankets are simple to use; you simply place them over a fire, and they are effective on both solids and liquids. They are particularly good for small clothing fires and for chip and fat pan fires, providing the blanket completely covers the fire.
Dry Riser Systems
Dry riser systems are normally found in buildings with 4 or more floors, or in buildings that may be located in hard to reach areas. They are essentially a fixed pipe within the building that has an inlet on the outside at street level to pump water in, and a series of outlets (Landing valves) on the inside to connect fire hoses to, and subsequently fight the fire. It is important that these systems are pressure tested at least annually, and also given a six monthly visual inspection as well. Dry riser testing is normally carried out with a fire engine, or in some cases a van with a pump and built in water tank.
These doors are heavy and solid. They act by simply trapping a fire into one isolated area preventing the fire from spreading to the rest of the building.
All fire doors should be fitted with hinges that enable them to shut on their own, and seals that expand when heated to prevent smoke and fire spreading through any gaps between them and the frame.
If you happen to have a fire door in your home or place of work that is faulty, you should report it immediately to the fire brigade, who will point you in the right direction of getting it fixed.
Fire Alarm Systems
In the last 20 years fire alarm systems have advanced in leaps and bounds. 20 years ago many were a simple bell that would ring out alerting all occupants to escape the building in the usual practiced drill like fashion. Nowadays these systems can detect a fire all by themselves without a human raising having to raise the alarm, they even inform the local fire brigade, and in some cases can even tell them where and on what floor the fire is in fact taking place.
Common place in many American buildings, but only recently (in the last decade) have sprinkler systems started to show up in UK modern office buildings. Many sprinkler systems react in a number of ways. Some are activated by the smoke alarm system and are triggered when a sensor detects smoke, and some are heat activated (I’m sure we’ve all seen the movies where the actor holds a lighter up to an office sprinkler in order to clear a building).
The Law is constantly being updated
Fire safety law in the UK and the US is constantly evolving and changing. As new technologies are introduced many tried and tested methods are replaced, and it certainly makes for good practice to check the law surrounding fire classification and extinguishers, to see if anything new has been introduced or changed.