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Fire Safety: Knowing Your Fire Classes & Extinguishers

Being fire ready doesn’t just mean having a bucket of water in your office, though that’s a good idea. It means having the right equipment and right training to protect your workers. The first step is taking an inventory of the different types of fire extinguisher you have in your building and understanding how each will be used.

Knowing which type of extinguisher best suits your workplace is important for meeting fire safety regulations, as well as protecting the lives of your employees. However, being equipped to prevent flames from engulfing your business premises first requires an understanding of the different fire types, and how each should be treated.

Fire Classes

Did you know that fires are divided into six classes, according to what fuelled the fire? Categorising fuels in this way can help to identify the type of extinguisher required. And did you know the fire extinguishers at home or the office may not be the best extinguisher for a particular fire?

Class A

Class A fires are the most common, and luckily, the easiest to extinguish.

Class A fires can be started by any of several ways, such as a cigarette or a campfire. The fire may involve clothing, rubbish bins, or even a pallet of cardboard. These fires are easy to recognize and are not dangerous if you know how to handle them.

Most suppression types are effective against Class A fires, except for carbon dioxide extinguishers.

Class B

Fires that involve flammable, combustible liquids such as petrol, kerosene, oil, tar, paint, wax, cleaning spirits or alcohol are known as Class B.

Flammable liquids are more difficult to extinguish and their vapours can be an explosion hazard. Flammable liquid fires, if not controlled quickly can develop into large fires with very high heat release rates. Water is unsuitable because it will spread the flammable liquid and may cause a flash fire or explosion.

Dry powder extinguishers are the most suitable for Class B fires – they smother the fire by separating the fuel from the oxygen in the air, thereby cutting off its supply. Fire blankets can also be used to smother small fires involving flammable liquids.

Foam extinguishers are also effective on Class B fires (particularly those involving petrol) as they blanket the surface of the fuel and separate it from the oxygen in the air. Carbon dioxide extinguishers (CO2) are also effective on this class of fire but should not be used on burning liquids as they will spread them.

Water mist extinguishers have recently been approved for use on Class B flammable liquid fires and offer several advantages over other agents when fighting such fires, particularly where water is unavailable or unsuitable for use due to contamination risks from some chemicals, or where risk to property from water damage is unacceptable eg inside buildings

Class C

Flammable gases that may be present include methane, acetylene, butane and propane.

When a Class C fire breaks out, the first thing to do is shut off the source of the gas if it is possible to do so without endangering yourself. If you can’t shut off the gas, evacuate the area and call for help.

These fires should only be extinguished with a dry chemical or foam fire extinguisher. Never use water on a Class C fire because it conducts electricity and could cause you to be electrocuted if the fire involves electrical equipment that is still energized.

Class F

Most Class F fires start in kitchens and involve vegetable or olive oil, lard, butter or dripping used in cooking. There are different ways to treat this type of fire but it’s important to be aware that you should never use water because it can spread the flames. A wet chemical extinguisher should be used.

A wet chemical extinguisher is designed to tackle Class F fires and works by emulsifying the burning fat, which cuts off its supply of oxygen. The emulsifier also acts as a cooling agent, lowering the temperature at which the fat can burn.

It’s important to remember that a wet chemical extinguisher shouldn’t be used on any other types of fire because it can make them worse, so make sure you have the right fire extinguishers for your business – especially if you have a catering kitchen or restaurant.

Fire extinguisher fire chart

The Different Types Of Fire Extinguishers

A small fire can have devastating and expensive consequences for a business. However, the first line of defence is often the correct use of a portable fire extinguisher.

Water (Red) is the most common type of portable extinguisher and is suitable for Class A fires only. This class of fire involves paper, wood, textiles, rubber and other solid materials.

Foam (Blue) is generally used on Class B fires involving flammable liquids such as petrol, oil, paint and solvents. Foam extinguishers are also suitable for use on Class A fires.

Dry Powder (White) is suitable for Class B & C fires and also electrical fires (E). Some dry powder extinguishers are multi-purpose and can be used on all types of fire. The dry powder agent smothers and cools the fire and so is particularly useful on flammable liquid fires where it will not spread the burning liquid around. Dry powder can also be used to control a fire in any area which has limited access or ventilation, such as small rooms or attics.

Carbon Dioxide (Black) is suitable for Class B & electrical equipment fires (E). Carbon Dioxide does not leave a residue after use therefore making it useful for small fires in areas where damage to valuables would be an issue. It should not be used in confined spaces or rooms containing delicate electrical equipment.

Extinguisher use safety tips

We all know what they look like – bright red cylinders hanging on walls at schools, shopping centres, fire stations and your local hardware store. But do you know how to use them?

Fire extinguishers are an essential tool in the event of a blaze. They can help stop a fire from spreading or even put it out completely before emergency services arrive. The key is to be prepared for a potential fire emergency and know how to use your fire extinguisher should the worst happen.


Placing your fire extinguisher in a spot that is easy to get to but at the same time away from potential hazards is crucial. For example, if you have an extinguisher in the garage, make sure it’s not sitting next to flammable substances such as aerosol cans or petrochemical based products.


Ensure your fire extinguishers are stored in an easy to reach location in the event of a fire emergency, yet stored away from areas likely to catch fire. For example, near kitchen fires where cooking oil may ignite.


Regular maintenance of your extinguisher is crucial. This includes monitoring the pressure gauge, shaking the extinguisher occasionally to prevent the powder from settling and having a six monthly or an annual check by a fire protection

 In the event of a fire, you may only have seconds to act. Using a fire extinguisher correctly could save lives, including your own. But it’s important to note that fire extinguishers are not suitable for use in every situation. The main aim should be to safely evacuate the premises and call triple 0 as soon as possible.

Using your extinguisher

Complete Fire and Pumps recommends Fire Extinguisher Training to ensure all staff, not just fire wardens, feel fully prepared to act in a fire emergency. An important safety rule is to ONLY use a fire extinguisher if:

You know that the extinguisher is suitable for use on the flammable materials involved in the fire;

  1. You have checked whether electricity is possibly involved and, if so, that the available extinguishing agent is non-conducting;
  2. You can extinguish the fire quickly;
  3. You are not putting your safety at risk by staying in the vicinity of the fire; and
  4. all other persons have been evacuated from the area.

Read more about >>fire evacuation plans.<<

Remember to always choose a fire extinguisher that has been approved as meeting Australian Standards and Fire Codes ensure you read the operating instructions well before a fire hazard occurs.

There are very few things as intimidating as the thought of a fire on your premises. However, there are several simple steps you can take to prepare for exactly that type of disaster striking.

The most important thing that you can do to protect your employees and property is relatively simple: have a fire safety plan in place. By including the above-mentioned measures, regarding understanding fire classes and behaviour and what you can do, you’ll be able to improve safety standards at your home or business, keep everyone protected, and overall reduce the potential damage caused by a fire on your property.

Hopefully, reading this article has been beneficial to you. These days most of us are familiar with the concept of fire classes, and know that extinguishers should be placed throughout a structure based on its fire class rating. There are far more factors to consider than the basics mentioned above, however. If you have any questions, or require clarification on some of the points raised above please don’t hesitate to contact Complete Fire and Pumps. or visit our fire extinguishers and hose reels web page. We provide an array of services pertaining to home, workplace and public safety, including risk assessments and audits – all at competitive prices. Rest assured that we will do our very best to meet your safety requirements. Afterall, being fire safe is everyone’s responsibility..

Yours In Fire Safety


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