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What Kind of Fire Extinguisher Should I Buy?

You may not give it much thought but a fire extinguisher is one of those tools you simply must have. It's not mandatory to keep one in the house but an office environment needs it and many more, in fact.

Fire extinguishers may be useless in the face of raging flames but their point is to keep fires under control, before they balloon into big problems. Depending on where one lives, maintaining these handy tools can be required by law.

There are several types of extinguishers, all of them color-coded and designed for different environments and fires. It's important that they not be inter-used. Take a look.

Water based fire extinguisher
Water based fire extinguisher

Water extinguishers (red): These emit water which is quite effective at dousing small fires and, in fact, should only be used on class A fires.

Class A fires fuel consist of ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, fabric, plastic, and most kinds of trash.
Class B fires fuel is flammable or combustible liquid or gas. In the European⁄Australian system, flammable liquids are designated "Class B", while burning gases are separately designated "Class C".
Class C fire are fires involving potentially energized electrical equipment. This class of fire may be caused by short-circuiting machinery or overloaded electrical cables. The Australian system designates them "Class E".

Since water extinguishers use water, they mustn't be aimed at electrical components. They can work in such cases if additives are included. However, since not all water extinguishers contain them, you must make sure they do during purchase. Keep a canister at the office and at home but don't expect it to tackle large fires.

CO2 based fire extinguisher
CO2 based fire extinguisher

CO2 extinguishers (red with black band): Where water extinguishers can only be used on fires feeding on natural fuels, CO2 extinguishers are designed to douse flames licking electrical equipment. They may also work on class A fires though class B types are the typical recipients.

A unique feature of CO2 extinguishers is that they don't leave a mess. The gas is cold to the point of being able to cause frostbite and care must be taken that it doesn't damage electronics by freezing.

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