Whether at home or in the workplace, a fire extinguisher is a vital and advisable piece of safety equipment - but before you go ahead and buy one, you need to know the difference between the categories and to be able to choose which is right for you.
Fire blankets are made of fire-resistant material. They are used for smothering small fires - such as chip pan fires - or for wrapping around a person whose clothing/hair is on fire. They are designed to be disposed of after use.
Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguishers
Carbon dioxide works by smothering a fire and is best used when water is not appropriate, such as in the event of an electrical fire. These are the appropriate choice for workplaces, home offices or server rooms. Care must be taken not to choke on the fumes released; the area must be ventilated as soon as the fire is out; be aware that the cylinder gets very cold during use and can result in freezing the hand.
Powder Fire Extinguishers
Powder extinguishers are multi-purpose and can be used on solid, liquid or gas fires (but not chip pans). Safe on electrical equipment; the powder acts as a thermal ballast and makes it too cold for the flames to keep going. Care must be taken that the fire does not reignite; the cooling effect of this extinguisher is not always long-lasting.
Foam Fire Extinguishers
Foam extinguishers (AFFF) are suitable for fires involving solids and burning liquids, excluding chip pan fires. These extinguishers are water based with a foaming agent - the foam floats on top of the burning liquid and breaks the interaction between the flames and the fuel surface.
Water Fire Extinguishers
Water extinguishers are best for fires involving organic solid materials such as wood, cloth, paper and coal. They must not be used on burning fat, oil or electrical fires. Point the jet at the base of the flame and keep it moving to saturate the material.