Select the correct fire extinguisher for your needs


Choose the right extinguisher for your situation.

Fire extinguishers can be an effective tool, but only when you select the correct type for your needs; install them in the most effective locations; and learn the proper way to use them. This three-part series covers the basics of fire extinguishers.

Part 1 of 3 –

A portable fire extinguisher is an effective first line of defense in controlling small fires within your home or business. For maximum effectiveness, choose the correct extinguisher for your needs.

To select the proper fire extinguisher, first consider:

  • what materials could fuel a fire
  • how much of that material is available
  • who will use the extinguisher
  • the capacity of the extinguisher (see classifications below)
  • whether chemicalsat the scene could react with the extinguishing agent

In its NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) identifies five primary classifications of fire hazards. Identifying these can help you select the appropriate extinguisher:

Class A – ordinary combustible materials, such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber and plastic

Class B – flammable and combustible liquids and flammable gases

Class C – energized electrical equipment

Class D – combustible metals, such as potassium, sodium and magnesium

Class K – cooking greases and fats

Class A, B and C extinguishers are often found in homes and businesses; Class D, in factories; and Class K, in commercial kitchens. In addition to the fire hazard classification, a numerical rating measures the extinguishing potential of type A and B extinguishers. The larger the number, in general, the larger the fire or fuel load the extinguisher can accommodate. You select the extinguisher size based on the fuel load and hazards of the area as well as how far you must travel to reach the extinguisher.


Consider the three types of occupancy hazard (fire load) in a building when choosing an extinguisher:

  • Light hazard, with few combustibles: offices, churches, school rooms and assembly halls.
  • Ordinary or moderate hazards, with combustibles in an ordinary form or small quantity: mercantile storage and displays, auto showrooms and parking garages.
  • Extra or high hazard, with substantial quantities of combustibles that readily support combustion: woodworking, vehicle servicing, product display showrooms and warehouses with high-piled combustibles

Evaluate your fire hazards to select the most suitable extinguisher. If you face more than one fire hazard, select an extinguisher that can control all hazards present while avoiding any that cannot be used in your particular situation. For example:

  • Fire extinguishers intended for use on Class B and C fires can’t be used on Class A fires.
  • Extinguishers may increase the fire severity when used on a fire of a different hazard type. Water‑based Class A extinguishers can’t be used on Class B fires, as the flammable liquids would float on top of the water.
  • Extinguishers may injure users if used to fight fires of a different class. Water-based Class A extinguishers used on a Class C electrical fire creates a shock or electrocution hazard because of the conductivity of the water.
  • Class D extinguishers, designed to control a specific metal fire, may be ineffective or may exacerbate a fire on a different metal.
  • Class K extinguishers were designed to control kitchen fires. A Class A, B or C extinguisher may not be able to do the job.

With proper training, selection and placement, fire extinguishers can be a valuable asset in a time of need.

Part 2: Correctly place fire extinguishers for optimum use

Part 3: Training: is key to correct fire extinguisher usage

PDF version of the three-part series

This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.

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3 Responses to “Select the correct fire extinguisher for your needs”

  1. Scott

    I like that you suggest to think about the potential fire hazards and what materials will fuel the fire. I can see why this would help you determine what is best for you situation. My dad likes to have barbecues frequently during the summer. I’ll have to talk to him about buying the appropriate extinguisher.

  2. Daniel Beauchesne

    Very good information! You did a great job on laying everything out to where it is easy to understand. When in doubt on what kind of fire extinguisher to select call a licensed fire extinguisher service company to help you out!

  3. Max Jones

    I had no idea that there were so many different classifications to different fire extinguishers. I think that having a fire extinguisher is super important, because you don’t really think about one until you need it. I’m going to have to see what my wife thinks would be a good fire extinguisher for our home, and make sure we get one so we are prepared!

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