So there I was, at the local home improvement store, looking for a new fire extinguisher for the car. I was looking for a compact size that would fit in the onboard compartment. I happened to notice a gentleman who was quite perplexed by the variety and classes of extinguishers. There were large and small, multi-purpose, single purpose. He asked me if I understood the different labels. I replied in the affirmative, and briefly described the different types of fires and extinguishers. Several other people passing by stopped to listen, as they were also curious, thus leading to the creation of this article. Fires are classified by the combustion agent, these are:
Alpha – Combustible solids such as paper, and cloth
Bravo – Liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, Boiled Linseed Oil, and others
Charlie – Gasses such as oxygen, hydrogen, methane, butane to name a few
Delta – Metals like aluminum, magnesium, potassium, sodium, and lithium
Echo – Live electrical equipment. For de-energized equipment, treat as Alpha
Foxtrot – Cooking oils such as canola, sunflower, olive, and peanut
The methods of fighting these fires are often mutually exclusive. For example, you DO NOT use water to fight an electrical fire with energized equipment, this creates a potential for electrical shock. Using water on flammable liquids and cooking oils will only spread the fire as oil floats.
Often, the best method for fighting a fire is simply smothering it. Once you remove one of the legs of the fire triangle, the fire is out.
Most fire extinguishers are multiple purpose, such as A-B-C, or B-C. Commercial food preparation regulations specify a K-type extinguisher. Common fire suppressants are carbon dioxide (CO2), potassium bicarbonate (PKP, or Purple K, which actually is purple to visually identify the agent), sodium bicarbonate, water, Halon and its replacements (H3R, FE-13TM).
I personally advise clients to have a PKP extinguisher in the kitchen, as this agent suppresses flammable liquids, electrical fires, and cooking oils with low toxicity, easy clean-up, and no electric shock hazard.
This article is not a substitute for professional advice, but is meant to be a guide to educate the average consumer in fire types and suppression methods.