How to Choose the Appropriate Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguisher

Fire extinguishers are a crucial component of any fire safety plan, whether in a residential, commercial, or industrial setting. Not only do they provide a first line of defense against small, containable fires, but they also help in protecting lives and property until professional firefighting help can arrive. Given the diversity in types of fires and extinguishers, choosing the right one can be critical.

This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know to select the perfect fire extinguisher for your needs, ensuring safety and compliance with Australian standards.

Understanding the Basics: What is a Fire Extinguisher?

A fire extinguisher is a portable device containing substances that can be discharged to extinguish a fire. Extinguishers are designed to tackle specific types of fires, and using the wrong type can be ineffective or even hazardous. The contents of an extinguisher can vary widely – from water or foam to dry chemical powders and carbon dioxide.

The Fire Classification System in Australia

In Australia, fires are classified into several categories based on the fuel source involved, and fire extinguishers are labelled accordingly:

  • Class A: Fires involving ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, and cloth.
  • Class B: Fires involving flammable liquids like petrol, oil, and paints.
  • Class C: Fires involving flammable gases like hydrogen, butane, or methane.
  • Class D: Fires involving combustible metals such as aluminium, magnesium, or potassium.
  • Class E: Fires involving electrical equipment.
  • Class F: Fires involving cooking oils and fats.

Types of Fire Extinguishers

To effectively address the different fire classes, several types of fire extinguishers are available:

  • Water Extinguishers: Effective for Class A fires. They cool the fire by soaking the materials and reducing their temperature below ignition point.
  • Foam Extinguishers: Suitable for Class A and B fires. They seal the surface of burning liquids and prevent flammable vapour release.
  • Dry Chemical Extinguishers: These are versatile extinguishers that can be used on Class A, B, and C fires. They work by interrupting the chemical reaction of the fire.
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguishers: Ideal for Class B and E fires. They displace oxygen and smother the fire.
  • Wet Chemical Extinguishers: Specially designed for Class F fires. They also work on Class A fires and are effective in kitchen environments where oils and fats burn.

Selecting the Right Fire Extinguisher

Assess Your Risk

The first step in selecting the right fire extinguisher involves assessing the fire risks in your environment. A commercial kitchen, for instance, will have different needs compared to a chemical plant or a residential living room. Here are some factors to consider:

  • Type of Building: Residential, commercial, or industrial?
  • Common Hazards: What are the most prevalent types of fires that could occur based on the activities and stored materials?
  • Size and Layout of Premises: Larger areas might need larger or more extinguishers.
  • Regulatory Requirements: What are the legal requirements or standards for your type of establishment?

Size and Weight

Fire extinguishers come in various sizes and weights. It’s important to choose one that you can handle comfortably. Common sizes include:

  • 2 kg: Suitable for small offices or vehicles.
  • 5 kg: Good for homes and workshops.
  • 9 kg: Ideal for large commercial spaces or industrial areas.

Installation and Accessibility

Proper installation and strategic placement of fire extinguishers are critical. They should be easily accessible in the event of a fire, clearly visible, and away from potential fire sources. Extinguishers should be mounted on walls with the carrying handle approximately 1 metre from the floor for larger units and 1.5 metres for smaller units.

Maintenance and Inspection

Regular maintenance and inspection is essential for ensuring that fire extinguishers will work when needed. Inspections should be carried out at least monthly to check for signs of damage or corrosion, and professional maintenance should be done annually. This ensures they are in good working condition and refillable units are fully charged.

How long do fire extinguishers last?

Fire extinguishers typically have a lifespan of between 5 to 10 years, depending on the manufacturer’s guidelines and maintenance history. It’s essential to regularly check the expiry date and condition of the extinguisher, as components like seals and hoses can degrade over time. Regular inspections and maintenance are crucial to ensure the extinguisher remains functional throughout its life.

What type of fire extinguisher is used on electrical fires?

For electrical fires, known as Class E fires in Australia, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are most commonly used. These extinguishers are effective because CO2 does not conduct electricity and can safely extinguish the fire without the risk of electric shock. Additionally, CO2 extinguishers do not leave any residue, which is ideal for protecting sensitive electronic equipment.

What are carbon dioxide fire extinguishers primarily designed for?

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishers are primarily designed for tackling Class B and Class E fires. Class B fires involve flammable liquids such as petrol, oil, and paints, while Class E fires involve electrical equipment. CO2 extinguishers work by displacing oxygen around the fire, effectively smothering and extinguishing the flames without leaving any residue, making them ideal for environments with electronic and electrical equipment.

Advanced Tips for Fire Safety

  • Training: Regular training on how to use extinguishers correctly is crucial. Consider running fire drills to ensure everyone knows how to act in an emergency.
  • Signage: Clear signage can greatly enhance the visibility and accessibility of your fire extinguishers.
  • Replacement: Fire extinguishers do not last forever. Replace them every 5 to 10 years, even if they appear to be in good condition.

Choosing the right fire extinguisher involves understanding the types of fires you might face, the size and layout of your premises, and ensuring easy accessibility and regular maintenance.


Contact us today to discuss your fire extinguisher needs and requirements.