Fire Extinguishers

What are they?

Cylinders containing a pressurised substance which shoots out in a jet. They may contain powder, water, foam or carbon dioxide.



Where to site your extinguishers

Fire extinguishers should be bracket or stand mounted:

  • Where they can be reached quickly (staff should be no more than 30 metres away from a fire extinguisher)
  • Preferably on an escape route near to alarm points
  • Where they are clearly visible i.e. not hidden behind doors or furniture
  • Fixed to the wall at a height where it can be reached (up to 4 kg – 1.5m from the floor, more than 4kg at about 1m from the floor).
  • Where they are accessible at all times. (i.e. not used as door props)
  • Away from any heat source (e.g. radiators, kettles, cookers etc.)


As pressurised vessels, fire extinguishers themselves carry potential risks. It also may be the difference between life and death if fire extinguishers work when needed. It is strongly advised that all fire extinguishers are properly serviced by a competent person.

How do you use them?

  • Pull the Pin at the top of the extinguisher. The pin releases a locking mechanism and will allow you to discharge the extinguisher.
  • Aim at the base of the fire, not the flames. This is important – in order to put out the fire, you must extinguish the fuel.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly. This will release the extinguishing agent in the extinguisher. If the handle is released, the discharge will stop.
  • Sweep from side to side. Using a sweeping motion, move the fire extinguisher back and forth until the fire is completely out. Operate the extinguisher from a safe distance, several feet away, and then move towards the fire once it starts to diminish. Be sure to read the instructions on your fire extinguisher – different fire extinguishers recommend operating them from different distances. Remember: Aim at the base of the fire, not at the flames!


  • You can keep some distance from the fire when applying
  • Highly effective at extinguishing fires (if the right extinguisher is used for the type of fire).


  • If you use the wrong kind of extinguisher, you will make the fire worse or spread it
  • Relatively expensive
  • Require servicing.

There are four main types of fire extinguisher:

  • Water
  • Foam
  • Powder
  • C02



Powder and foam each come in two types: only one type of powder and one type of foam is suitable for having at home.

No single type of extinguisher is totally effective on every kind of fire. So before buying one, it’s vital to look carefully at what kinds of fires it can be used on.

What’s best for home use?

Multi-purpose dry powder or Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) are probably the best choices. They have the fewest dangers and are effective on many types of fire.



The water cools the burning material.

You can only use water on solids, like wood or paper. You must never use water on electrical fires or burning fat or oil.


The water can conduct electricity back to you.

Water actually makes fat or oil fires worse – they can explode as the water hits them.

How to use

Aim the jet at the base of the flames and move it over the area of the fire.

Foam or AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam)


The foam forms a blanket or film on the surface of a burning liquid.

Conventional foam works well only on some liquids so it’s not good for use at home, but AFFF is very effective on most fires except electrical and chip pan fires.


  • “Jet” foam can conduct electricity back to you, but “spray” foam is much less likely to do so.
  • The foam could spread burning fat or oil around.

How to use

For solids, aim the jet at the base of the flames and move it over the area of the fire. For liquids, don’t aim the foam straight at the fire – aim it at a vertical surface or, if the fire is in a container, at the inside edge of the container.

Standard or Multi-Purpose Dry Powder


The powder “knocks down” the flames.

These are safe to use on most kinds of fire, but the multi-purpose powders are more effective, especially on burning solids. Standard powders work well only on burning liquids.


  • The powder does not cool the fire well.
  • Fires which seem out can reignite.
  • The powder doesn’t penetrate small spaces, like those inside burning equipment.
  • The jet could spread burning fat or oil around.

How to use

Aim the jet at the base of the flames and briskly sweep it from side to side.


CO2 extinguishers have non-conductive anti-static horns and are suitable for fires involving flammable liquids and electrical hazards. CO2 is harmless to delicate equipment. Ideal for modern office environments, all electronic risks, and where oils, spirits solvents and waxes are in use.

  • Squeeze grip operation
  • Corrosion resistant finish
  • Harmless to machinery
  • Kitemarked to BS EN3
  • Complete with bracket.

Fire Blankets

What are they?

Fire-resistant sheets of material.

How do you use them?

You cover a fire to cut its supply of oxygen or wrap a person whose clothes are on fire.


  • Quick to apply
  • Light
  • Easy to maintain
  • Cheaper than extinguishers.


  • To use on a fire, you have to move close to the fire, and your hands are particularly vulnerable
  • You can only use on a very small and contained fire
  • You probably only get one go at extinguishing the fire – if you fail to put it out, you can’t retrieve the blanket.
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