Frequently Asked Questions

The following are just some of the questions we get asked at Paramount Fire & Protection Services. We post them here, with a typical answer, in the hope they will assist you when making choices or decisions which affect the safety and protection of your people, premises and assets.
We cannot guarantee that any of the answers given is definitive for your particular circumstances, and would recommend talking directly to us, but hopefully, they can be of some assistance in the meantime.

What types of Fire Extinguisher are there?

A simple guide

There are six main portable fire-extinguisher types; Water, Foam, Dry Powder, Vaporising Liquid, CO2 and Wet Chemical. You should have the right kinds of fire-extinguisher for your premises, or you may not be compliant with the Australian standards, and more importantly, may not be able to tackle an emergency effectively.

The various fire-extinguishers are designed to put out fires consisting of different fuels, that is the ‘class’ of fire.  The risk from the different fuel classes will determine which fire-extinguisher types you need.

As well as the right type, you will also need to make sure that you have the right size and weight (capacity) of fire-extinguisher for the potential risk.

The six types of fire-extinguisher

  • Water
  • Foam
  • Dry Powder
  • Vaporising Liquid
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Wet Chemical

Some of these types are also available in different versions; for example, you can get ABE category dry powder and BE category dry powder extinguishers. However, to keep this guide simple, we will stick with the ‘main’ versions.

There is no one portable fire-extinguisher type which works on all classes of fire.

Below is a summary of the classes of fire. We then provide a detailed explanation of each type of fire-extinguisher below.

The classes of fire

There are six Australian classes of fire:

  • Class A combustible materials: caused by flammable solids; wood, paper, and fabric
  • Class B flammable liquids: such as petrol, turpentine or paint
  • Class C flammable gases: like hydrogen, butane or methane
  • Class D combustible metals: such as magnesium, aluminium or potassium
  • Electrical electrical equipment: once the electricity is isolated, the fire changes class
  • Class F cooking oils: typically, a chip-pan fire

Water Extinguishers

Water extinguishers are a common fire-extinguisher type for class A fire risk; however, in recent years many premises now use ABE category Dry Powder fire-extinguishers due to the extra flexibility they provide.

Label Colour: Bright Red

Use for:

Organic materials:

  • Paper and cardboard
  • Fabrics and textiles
  • Wood and coal

Do not use for:

Fires involving electrical equipment

Kitchen fires

Flammable gas and liquids

How water extinguishers work:

The water has a cooling effect on the fuel, causing it to burn more slowly until eventually extinguished.

Types of premises/business who may need water extinguishers:

Buildings constructed of wood or other organic materials

Premises where natural materials are found:

  • Offices
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Residential properties
  • Warehouses

Where to locate water extinguishers:

By the exits on a floor where a Class A fire risk has been identified

Foam Extinguishers

Foam extinguishers are a common type of fire-extinguisher for Class B fires, but also work on Class A fires as they are water-based.

Label Colour: Blue

Use for:

Organic materials such as:

  • Paper and cardboard
  • Fabrics and textiles
  • Wood and coal

Plus:

Flammable liquids, like paint and petrol

Do not use for:

Kitchen fires

Fires involving electrical equipment

Flammable metals

How foam extinguishers work:

As with water extinguishers, foam extinguishers have a cooling effect on the fuel. On burning liquids, the foaming agent creates a barrier separating the flame and the fuel, extinguishing the fire.

Types of premises/business who may need Foam extinguishers:

Buildings constructed of wood or other organic materials

Premises where there are organic materials to be found such as:

  • Offices
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Residential properties
  • Warehouses

Buildings where flammable liquids are stored

Where to locate foam extinguishers:

By the exits on a floor where a Class A or Class B fire risk has been identified

Dry Powder Extinguishers

One of the most flexible of all the fire-extinguisher types.

Although they can extinguish electrical fires, caution should be exercised especially where the electrical equipment is of high value or delicate, as the resulting powder can be corrosive and difficult to clean up. Should not be used in an enclosed space where the powder may be inhaled.

Specialist dry powder extinguishers are used for flammable metals.

Label Colour: White

Use for:

Organic materials such as:

  • Paper and cardboard
  • Fabric and textiles
  • Wood and coal

Plus:

Flammable liquids, like paint and petrol

Plus:

Flammable gases, like liquid petroleum gas (LPG) and acetylene

Plus:

Fires involving electrical equipment up to 1000v

Specialist dry powder extinguishers are only used on flammable metals, such as titanium and magnesium.

Do not use for:

Fires involving cooking oil

Fires involving electrical equipment over 1000v

or in enclosed spaces

How dry powder extinguishers work:

Dry powder extinguishers smother fires by forming a barrier between the fuel and the source of oxygen.

Types of premises/business who may need Dry Powder extinguishers:

Businesses using flammable gases for chemical processes

Premises where welding and flame cutting takes place

Garage forecourts

Liquid petroleum gas (LPG) dispensing plants

Premises with large, commercial boiler rooms

Where to locate Dry Powder extinguishers:

Place dry powder extinguishers near to the source of the fire risk, or on the exit route

Specialist Dry Powder extinguishers what’s the difference?

Specialist dry powder extinguishers work in the same way as standard dry powder extinguishers but are for use with flammable metals. If your premises require a specialist extinguisher you will need to seek advice on the specific type required.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extinguishers

CO2 extinguishers are predominantly used for electrical fire risks and are usually the main fire-extinguisher type provided in computer server rooms. They can also put out Class B fires (flammable liquids, such as paint and petroleum).

Label Colour: Black

Use for:

Flammable liquids, like paint and petrol

Electrical fires

Do not use for:

Kitchen fires especially chip-pan fires

Combustible materials like paper, wood or textiles

Flammable metals

How CO2 extinguishers work:

CO2 extinguishers suffocate fires by displacing the oxygen the fire needs to burn.

Types of premises/business who may need CO2 extinguishers:

Premises with electrical equipment, such as:

  • Offices
  • Kitchens
  • Construction sites
  • Server rooms

Where to locate CO2 extinguishers:

Place near to the source of the fire risk and/or near the fire exits.

Vaporising Liquid Extinguishers

Vaporising liquid extinguishers are designed for use on Class A and Electrical fires. 

Label Colour: Yellow

Use for:

Organic materials such as:

  • Paper and cardboard
  • Fabrics and textiles
  • Wood and coal

Electrical fires

Do not use for:

Flammable liquid or gas fires

Flammable metals

How vaporising liquid extinguishers work:

Discharges a rapidly evaporating liquid which leaves no residue. It effectively extinguishes Class A and can be effective on Class B fires by cooling and smothering and it will not conduct electricity back to the operator, so can be used on electrical fires.

Types of premises/business who may need vaporising liquid extinguishers:

Offices

Workshops

Warehouse/storage

Where to locate vaporising liquid extinguishers:

Place on the exit routes.

Wet Chemical Extinguishers

Wet chemical extinguishers are designed for use on Class F fires, involving cooking oils and fats.  They can also be used on Class A fires although it is more usual to have a foam or water extinguisher for this type of fire risk.

Label Colour: Pale Yellow (Beige)

Use for:

Cooking oil/fat fires

Organic materials such as:

  • Paper and cardboard
  • Fabrics and textiles
  • Wood and coal

Do not use for:

Flammable liquid or gas fires

Electrical fires

Flammable metals

How wet chemical extinguishers work:

Wet chemical extinguishers create a layer of foam on the surface of the burning oil or fat, preventing oxygen from fuelling the fire any further. The spray also has a cooling effect.

Types of premises/business who may need wet chemical extinguishers:

Commercial kitchens

Canteens

Where to locate wet chemical extinguishers:

Place near to the source of the fire risk.

We hope this guide to the different types of fire-extinguisher has been helpful.

If you still have questions, or if you’d like to book a free survey of your premises by one of our qualified extinguisher technicians, please just call us on (08) 6245 2677 or email us at info@paramountservices.com.au and we will get back to you.

How quickly can a fire spread?

The answer depends on many factors. The fuel load, the type of fuel, oxygen supply, layout and configuration of the room or space where the fire is located. The below video shows an example, conducted by BRE in the UK, of just how rapidly fire can spread in a domestic living room. The Christmas tree has a particular impact on the fast spread.

Video

What is a Car Fire Blanket?

Most people are aware of fire blankets. Usually found in kitchens, they are often the best means of extinguishing stovetop fires involving fat or oil. They do this by smothering the fire and starving it of oxygen.

A Car Fire Blanket works on the same principle, however, it is much larger.

The average size of the Car Fire Blanket is 6 x 9 m and they are very compact once folded, weighing only 27 kg.

Using

It requires two people working together to deploy. Taking a corner each, they pull the blanket over the burning car (or other burning objects) then allow the overlapping proportion to settle to the ground, smothering the fire and starving it of oxygen. Once the fire blanket has been deployed it takes a couple of minutes to extinguish the fire.

Why?

As ex-firefighters we have experienced just how difficult it can be to extinguish a car fire using ‘traditional’ methods, especially once the fuel lines have been breached. See how relatively easy it is using this product.

What are the servicing requirements for Emergency Exit Lights?

Under AS 2293.2 all Emergency Exit Lights must be inspected and tested at least every six months. Some insurance companies ask for more frequent inspections in their policies.

Part of the test is to isolate the light from mains power and check that it remains illuminated for at least 90 minutes. If the light fails the battery test, it may be possible to replace the battery, otherwise a new unit will be required.

What are Emergency Exit Lights, and do I need them?

Unfortunately, emergencies happen day or night. Sometimes the people in a building are visitors, unfamiliar with the layout. Often the crisis may cause the electrics to fail, so Emergency Exit Lights have a battery backup to guide people to a safe exit point.

Under AS 2293.1 all Class 6 buildings over 100 m2 require emergency exit lights. They must also be installed on every level of Class 5, 7, 8 or 9 building where any level has a floor area of more than 300 m2. All required emergency lights and exit signs should comply with the standard.

What is CAFS, why should I be interested?

Compressed Air Foam Systems come in a variety of sizes and formats, to suit individual requirements. It is a relatively new firefighting technique, where self-contained apparatus mix compressed air with water and foam.

One of the benefits is that the systems typically use only a 3rd of the water normally required to extinguish a fire using water alone. Or, put another way, a given amount of water will cover 3 times the fire area.

The portable versions are capable of being filled in under 1 minute using purpose designed mobile refill kits.

Benefits

  • Versatile – comes in many different sizes and capacities from small portable backpacks up to vehicle and building protection systems
  • Tactical – can use different types of foam with different spray modes and different jet guns
  • Economy – optimised foam generation for high efficiency, lower collateral damage and cleaning costs
  • User-friendly – easy to use, maintain and repair with lower component costs
  • Powerful – even the smallest system has a jet range of over 20 m and operates at a constant 38 bar pressure

The portable devices are superb for getting quickly to fire threatened areas, which may be some distance from a reliable water source, and containing the threat before it gets out of control.

Can wheelchair users use the lift when there is a fire?

The short answer is no! As you may be aware, when you have an evacuation exercise in your business (an annual requirement), people are not supposed to use the lifts, even if they cannot otherwise exit the building.

This is done for good reason. One of the most common causes of fires, are electrical faults, which might render the lift(s) unusable. Even if the lifts do still continue to operate reliably, they are often one of the main channels for smoke, from fire on a lower level so not safe to use.

Responsibility

It is a mistaken belief that as the owners, or managers, of a business in a high-rise building you can simply wait for the firefighters to arrive and they will get all wheelchair occupants out. Wrong!

It is your responsibility. You have a duty of care to all occupants or visitors to the building to make sure they can evacuate to a safe place in an emergency. There is a legal requirement for employers, service providers and building owners to ensure the safe evacuation of mobility impaired persons in the event of an emergency.

Evacuation Chairs

As ex-firefighters we have observed first-hand the difficulties experienced trying to get people down the stairs when they in a wheelchair. It is far better to use a specialist device designed for staircase evacuation.

These devices – evacuation chairs – offer a cost-effective, safe and simple solution that ensures the safe evacuation of those that are mobility impaired. Our entire range of chairs can also be used as transfer/ambulance chairs and greatly assist with compliance.

The evacuation chair enables one person to evacuate a physically impaired person safely and easily down stairs in the event of an emergency or when lifts can not be used.

Where should fire detectors be installed?

If required, fire detectors should be installed as detailed in AS 1670. There are special exceptions and variations.

Detectors should be provided throughout all areas of a building, and must be installed in any sleeping areas and circulation spaces leading to exits.

Where areas are divided into sections by wall, partitions or storage racks reaching within 300 mm of the ceiling, each section must be treated as a room and have detection. Accessible service tunnels, not fire isolated, that provide communication between sections or buildings must be protected.

A clear space of at least 300 mm radius, to a depth of 600 mm, shall be maintained from the detector. Protection should be provided in all concealed spaces. Cupboards with a capacity exceeding 3 sq m need to have detectors.

Please note: the above are necessarily general requirements and the precise requirements for each building have to be determined by a professional installer, following a site survey.

How often should my hose reels be serviced?

Hose reels should be serviced every six months. There are two levels of service, that alternate;

  • Level 1 – visual inspection, removal and activation of discharge nozzle to check for proper operation
  • Level 2 – visual inspection, removal of nozzle and complete unwinding of the hose to check for condition and proper operation

In both cases the tag should be stamped to record the service.

How often should my fire extinguishers be serviced?

According to AS1851, fire extinguisher test and refill services should occur at the following intervals:

  • Portable (including wheeled fire extinguishers) must be tested every 6 months
  • The cylinder of the fire extinguisher should be pressure tested and refilled every 5 years

Records of the tests and their dates should be kept on the metal tag attached to each extinguisher. The fire extinguisher tags should only be distributed and modified by a trained individual.

How far apart must extinguishers be located?

Or, how far the nearest fire extinguisher is from the fire hazard. The guidelines are given under AS2444 and state that the distance varies between 15m and 40m depending on the nature of the fire risk. So, for Class A fire risks where there is no fire sprinkler system, the Australian standard specifies 15m as the maximum. In an office situation where the risk is an electrical fire from computers or photocopiers, the maximum distance is 40m. The number of fire extinguishers needed is also influenced by the square area to be protected. For class B fires it depends on the risk, the area to be covered and the rating of the extinguisher. These calculations can get complicated and it is recommended to get a suitably qualified person to determine the number, type and placement of fire extinguishers. Our fire service team can do this assessment for you.

Where do the fire extinguisher signs go?

A fire extinguisher is usually accompanied by two signs, an ID sign which shows what sort of fires it should be used on, and a location sign. The fire extinguisher location sign is mounted at least 2m above the ground and tells people that a fire extinguisher is located underneath. The sign should be placed so that it is clearly visible for up to 20m. In some situations, you might need one that mounts at right angles to the wall so it can be seen down a corridor. The fire extinguisher ID sign is placed immediately above the extinguisher.

Where should we put fire extinguishers?

The requirements for the location of portable fire extinguishers is governed by the Australian standard AS2444. There are no simple rules to follow because each building is different, both in its layout, and fire risks. There are some general guidelines for locating fire extinguishers on the wall, and for the travelling, distance to get to a fire extinguisher.

AS2444 specifies that the base of the extinguisher must be mounted at least 10cm off the floor, and the top of it should be no more than 1.2m above the floor. Within those boundaries, you want to mount the fire extinguisher, so it is not knocked by cleaning equipment, or kicked by passers-by. Ideally located at roughly elbow height so the user can grab the handle easily. If damage due to people traffic is an issue, you should consider locating it in a fire extinguisher cabinet. There is no specific qualification for installing a fire extinguisher, it is, after all, just screwing in a bracket. But the position of the fire extinguisher within the building is best determined by a fire service company. If the fire extinguisher is not correctly located, you may fail any fire safety inspections on the premises!

Within the boundaries of travel distance to the fire extinguisher, the area protected, and fire risk type, it is important to locate the fire extinguisher, so it is not too close to the possible source of a fire. If the fire extinguisher is too close to the fire you will not be able to grab it to put the fire out! For cooking oil or fat fire risk (type F risk) the fire extinguisher must be at least 2m from the risk. For electrical switchboards a 5kg carbon dioxide is recommended, no closer than 2m to the switchboard. Ideally, the fire extinguisher is also located near an exit. Fire extinguishers cannot be hidden behind boxes, doors or curtains, they must be easily accessible and in view!

What is Class A firefighting foam?

Class A ‘Bush’ Firefighting Foam is a formulation qualified by the USDA Forest Service in accordance with Forest Service Specification 5100-307A .

It comes in a variety of pack sizes, including 2 litres, 20 litres and bulk 1 ton. The foam is a concentrate that, when mixed with water, expands up to 100 times (20 litres concentrate makes 2,000 litres of finished foam).

We would normally recommend that this is used in a device like a Propak, where the pure concentrate is mixed with the water as it is used and then the user can adjust the foam mix at the nozzle.