How to Choose the Best Fire Extinguisher for Your Farm
According to the National Fire Protection Association, in 2019, local fire departments responded to 1,291,500 fires which resulted in roughly 3,700 civilian deaths. It is estimated that in the United States, a home fire occurs every 93 seconds.
One way that we can better equip people to protect themselves from fires is to share fire education. Today, we will go through how fires start and the different classes of fires, so that you can find the right extinguisher to defend against your particular fire risks.
How Fire Works
An understanding of how fires burn is essential if a fire is to be extinguished. Fires require three elements: oxygen, fuel, and heat. All three of these elements are necessary to create a fire and to sustain its “life”. If the chemical reaction linking the elements is interrupted, the fire will be extinguished.
What this may look like on your farm:
Farm buildings are particularly susceptible to fast-moving fires because they are well ventilated. Barns and farm buildings provide a plentiful fuel supply for fires to start and grow: the buildings themselves are constructed of wood and house solid fuels such as hay, straw, and grain. The final element, the heat source, can take the form of sunlight, friction, electricity, open flame, gas compression, and/or chemical reactions. Measures on how to help prevent farm fires are outlined below.
The fuel involved in fires varies greatly. Similarly, the equipment used to extinguish fires varies. In order to properly identify different fire types, a method of classifying fire exists. The fire classifications will determine what type agent should be used to most effectively and safely extinguish the fire.
Class A Fire: ordinary combustibles, wood, paper, textiles, etc.
Class B Fire: flammable liquids, gasoline, oils, fats, etc.
Class C Fire: live electrical wiring, motors, appliances, etc.
Class D Fire: combustible metals, magnesium, potassium, etc.
Class K Fire: fats, grease, oils, etc. (most common in commercial kitchen)
Choosing the right extinguisher for a fire is extremely important if a fire is to be put out quickly and safely. For example; an “A” rated fire extinguisher can be used to extinguish a Class “A” fire, a “B” rated fire extinguisher can be used in a Class “B” fire, and a “C” rated one for a Class “C” fire, and so on.
Many fires however, cannot be classified strictly as one type, as they may involve a variety of flammable materials. For this reason, multi-rated extinguishers have been developed. Owing to the variety of work conditions that exist on a farm, farmers are advised to use an all purpose, ABC rated fire extinguisher.
Types of Fire Extinguishers:
Some fires may involve a combination of these classifications. Your fire extinguishers should have ABC ratings on them. Here are the most common types of fire extinguishers:
Clean agent extinguishers (such as the STOP-FYRE® High Capacity) contain a proprietary blend of fire suppression gases that interrupts the chemical reaction that takes place when fuels burn. These types of extinguishers are often used to protect valuable electrical equipment since they are non-conductive and leave no residue to clean up.
Water extinguishers are filled with water and are typically pressurized with air and so are often called APW (air-pressurized water) extinguishers. They are suitable for class A fires only. Never use a water extinguisher on grease fires or electrical fires - the flames will spread and make the fire bigger. Water extinguishers can be very dangerous if used in the wrong situation. Only fight the fire if you are certain it contains ordinary combustibles only.
Dry chemical extinguishers come in a variety of types and are suitable for a combination of classes A, B, and C fires. These are filled with foam or powder and pressurized with nitrogen.
- BC - This is the regular type of dry chemical extinguisher. It is filled with sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate. The BC variety leaves a mildly corrosive residue which must be cleaned immediately to prevent any damage to materials.
- ABC - This is the multipurpose dry chemical extinguisher. The ABC type is filled with monoammonium phosphate, a yellow powder that leaves a sticky residue that may be damaging to electrical appliances such as a computer (ABC dry chemical extinguisher that are exposed to sub-zero temperature for prolonged periods of time may freeze. Special cartridge activated extinguishers should be used for sub-zero applications.)
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are used for class B and C fires. CO2 extinguishers contain carbon dioxide, a non-flammable gas, and are highly pressurized. The pressure is so great that it is not uncommon for bits of dry ice to shoot out of the nozzle. They are not recommended for Class A fires because they may not able to displace enough oxygen to put a fire out, causing it to reignite.
Clean agent extinguishers have advantages over other extinguishers because they:
- Leave no mess to clean up
- Will not settle, eliminating regular maintenance for the owner
- Will not freeze
- Can put out all common classes of fires (ABC)
- Are non-corrosive
- Will not conduct electricity
- Can put out an obstructed fire
- Are multi-shot units (some models)
- So long as the fire is contained, insulates the fuel source -- preventing reignition
- Are very fast at putting fire out
- Are not harmful to people or livestock
Clean agent and CO2 extinguishers have an advantage over dry chemical extinguishers since they don’t leave a harmful residue - a good choice for an electrical fire on a computer or other favorite electronic device.
It is vital to know what type of extinguisher you are using. Using the wrong type of extinguisher for the wrong type of fire can be life-threatening. If you use the wrong unit on a fast-moving fire, you may cause the fire to spread even faster.
These are only the common types of fire extinguishers. There are many others to choose from. Base your selection on the classification and the extinguisher’s compatibility with the items you wish to protect.
Extinguishing a Fire
Remember the phrase P-A-S-S if you attempt to put out a small fire.
P - Pull the pin of the extinguisher (or with some units, Press the puncture lever to release the lock hatch)
A - Aim low or point the unit’s nozzle at the base of the fire. Fire blazes in the shape of a V, so do your best to find the base point of the V and aim there.
S - Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent
S - Sweep from side to side (If you have a STOP-FYRE® extinguisher, spray the fire in short, continuous bursts)
Keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until it appears to be out. One way to tell if a fire is out, is by observing the color of the smoke. When you see white smoke, the fire has been extinguished. Standby to watch for reignition and, if you can, separate an ashes so as to prevent reignition. Never turn your back on a small fire, even if it looks as if it out. Be prepared in case it flashes again.
Being prepared to fight against fire can make all the difference. A matter of seconds could save property, equipment, and human life. Get the right extinguishers for your situation and educate all family members, employees, and machinery operators on how to properly operate a fire extinguisher.