A fire extinguisher is a device used to control or extinguish a fire. While they are often credited with saving lives and protecting property, there are also several dangers associated with fire extinguishers. These dangers should be carefully considered when developing training strategies or using an extinguisher to fight a fire.
There are five different types of fire extinguishers used in the U.S. Class A models are used on paper, lumber and most home fires. Type B extinguishers work best on gasoline or combustible liquids, while Type C is designed to extinguish electrical fires. Type D is used for chemical fires and Type K is designed to extinguish kitchen fires.
One of the biggest dangers associated with fire extinguishers comes from using the wrong type of extinguisher to fight a fire. For example, a water extinguisher used on electrical or oil fires can cause electric shock or explosions. A Type B or C carbon dioxide extinguisher used on a chemical fire may cause violent explosions that lead to injury or death.
Inadequate maintenance can lead to additional dangers with fire extinguishers. Units left outside or in damp areas will often corrode. A corroded fire extinguisher can explode, causing injury or death. This is a common problem in marine and industrial applications, where saltwater and chemicals cause the canisters to corrode rapidly. Failing to recharge your extinguishers can also be dangerous, as those attempting to fight a fire will find themselves ill-equipped.
Most fire extinguishers are made of steel or some other form of metal. For those working around MRI machines, nuclear equipment or other magnetized machines, a steel fire extinguisher may be difficult or impossible to control during a fire. There is also a real risk of the steel canister being drawn towards the source of the magnet, striking people or property on the way.
Dry chemical extinguishers pose some of the biggest dangers to consumers. The fumes that are released by these units during a fire can be toxic in the short-term, and may even linger for long periods of time. Carbon dioxide can cause cold burns to operators, and can deplete oxygen supplies in the room. These extinguishers also contain chemicals that deplete the ozone layer and contribute to global warming.