It’s amazing that when we do training onboard vessels that so many of the crew can’t identify the different fire extinguishers. That’s a big problem because not being able to identify different extinguishers and what their purpose can be a major problem.
All fire extinguishers are colour coded with a band that identifies the type and classes of fires they are suitable for. So, in this newsletter we’ll list the most common types of extinguishers used on vessels.
Firstly, let’s look at the different classes of fires.
The Classes of Fire
Class A fires: combustible materials: caused by flammable solids, such as wood, paper, and fabric
Class B fires: flammable liquids: such as petrol, turpentine or paint
Class C fires: flammable gases: like LPG, hydrogen, butane or methane
Class D fires: combustible metals: chemicals such as magnesium, aluminium or potassium
Class E fires: electrical equipment: once the electrical item is removed, the fire changes class
Class F fires: cooking oils: typically, a chip-pan fire
An easy way to determine which fire extinguisher to use is by the different coloured bands on the top of each cylinder. This coloured band tells us what type of fire extinguisher it is therefore allowing us to recognise which fire to use it for.
The 3 most common fire extinguishers used on vessels and our recommendations.
Dry Powder or Dry Chemical
Dry Powder extinguishers are identified by a WHITE band and are good for all classes of fires. These extinguishers are our best recommendation for general use on vessels. We strongly recommend these for use in galleys, accommodation areas, wheelhouses and all other areas. In land based operations they are also the best general use extinguisher. Also ideal for use in offices and factories.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
CO2 extinguishers are identified by a BLACK band and have been designed for Class E fires. Designed specifically for electrical equipment such as switchboards, electrical machinery, etc. These extinguishers work by removing the oxygen from the environment therefore there is a risk of asphyxiation especially in confined spaces. We recommend these for wheelhouses and other areas where there are switchboards or other electrical machinery.
Foam extinguishers are identified by a BLUE band are used for Class A and Class B fires. They are exceptionally good with flammable liquid fires such as gasoline, petroleum greases and oil based paints. It is NOT advised to use a foam extinguisher for Class F fires in other words fires involving fats and oils. We recommend foam extinguishers for engine rooms and other areas where machinery is located.
Wet Chemical extinguishers are identified by YELLOW band and are used for Class A and Class F fires. These are not seen so often in vessels, but they are ideal for use in galleys and commercial kitchens where there is a risk of a fire involving cooking oils and fats. Wet Chemical extinguishers must not be used on electrical fires. We recommend these extinguishers in galleys of vessels that carry passengers and have a galley or food preparation areas.
We strongly recommend you ensue all of your crew or relevant workers know how to identify fire extinguishers and the Classes of fires they are designed to deal with.
Secondly we also highly recommend all crew and workers know how to use a fire extinguisher. Sadly, we find that so many people don’t know how to effectively use fire extinguishers and say we’ll read the instruction when needed. By then it’s too late!
Remember , it’s vital that you can identify different fire extinguisher types and what they are designed to be used for. This applies not only onboard but is critical knowledge for everyday life!