Row of fire extinguishers

Fire extinguishers

There are 6 types of fire and many types of fire extinguisher. Unfortunately, there isn’t one fire extinguisher that works on all fires. Even worse, some extinguishers can be downright dangerous to use on some fires. So which should you keep handy at home?

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There’s a rule about tackling household fires: if it’s bigger than a waste paper bin, leave it and get out. But if it’s a small fire and you have an extinguisher on hand, you may be able to prevent a big mess. Remember: Life is more important than property. Don’t put yourself or others at risk.

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Which extinguisher for which fire

= Good
= OK
= Dangerous

TypeWood, paper, plastics[tick]Cooking oils, fats[tick]Electrical equipment[tick]Flammable liquids[tick]Flammable gases[tick]Combustible metals[tick]
WaterYesNoNoNoNoNo
Wet chemicalYesYesNo
FoamYes

NoYes
Dry powder (ABE)YesNoYesYesYes
Dry powder (BE)*

YesYesYes
Carbon dioxide

Yes

Fire blanketYes

*Being phased out.

Our advice

The ABE dry powder fire extinguisher (red with white band) is the most common household type. It works well on most fires. ABE fire extinguishers can be found at most hardware stores. A 1kg or 1.5kg ABE extinguisher won’t cost more than $50. However, while it’s a good, general purpose type, there’s one big caveat – it’s dangerous to use on cooking oil and fat fires, as the pressure from it can cause the fire to spread.

Best-practice advice is to also keep a wet chemical extinguisher (red with a yellow band) close to the kitchen for fat and oil fires. This type also works on most other household fires, but never use it on live electrical equipment. You won’t find this fire extinguisher in your local hardware store – you’ll need to go to a specialist fire safety supplier. They don’t come cheap either – a 2kg wet chemical fire extinguisher costs between $150 and $200.

An alternative for small fat or oil fires in the kitchen is using a fire blanket to smother the flames. While they are no use for fighting any other fire (though they can be used to wrap a person and smother clothing fires), they are easy to use and an effective way to stop small stovetop fires. They are readily available at hardware stores, for about $20.

Tips

  • Mount fire extinguishers on the wall, out of reach of children. Place them in noticeable places where they can be easily accessed, such as in or near the kitchen or garage.

  • Know how to use the fire extinguisher – read the instructions in advance.

  • Only tackle small fires – nothing bigger than a “small rubbish bin” contained in one area.

  • Get everyone else to safety before attempting to put out the fire.

  • Stand about 2m from the fire.

  • Always stand with your back to an exit. Be prepared to leave in a hurry.

  • Aim at the base of the fire.

  • If the fire hasn’t been extinguished within 30 seconds, get out.



By Paul Smith
Head of Testing

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