by Mac McCoy
There are many reasons to buy a fire extinguisher. It may be for your boat, RV, home, car or for other reasons. When you go to Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Lowes, Menards, Home Depot or where ever, how do you choose the one you need? Do you choose the “type” you need, what “looks good”, or most generally “how much it costs”. What do the numbers and letters mean? Do you stop to read the fine print to see if it’s safe to use around your children or animals? How much clean up? Will it do more damage than the fire? How easy is it to use? How do I maintain it? Can I go to the Fire Department and will they train me?
What do the letters and numbers on the fire extinguisher mean?
Fire extinguishers may have one or more of the following letters on the label, A, B, C, D, or K, and, a number from 1 to 120. The letters A,B,C,D and K represent the types of fire the extinguisher can extinguish.
• Class A is effective for fighting fires involving common combustibles like paper, fiberglass, wood, 12-volt wiring and many other items commonly found in a home, car, RV or boat.
• Class B is effective for fighting fires involving flammable & combustible liquids like gasoline and diesel fuel and flammable gasses such as propane etc.
• Class C is used on fires involving energized 120v electrical equipment, including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery and appliances. Remember the only way to extinguish a Class C fire is to turn the power OFF. The C means that the material in the extinguisher is non-conductive.
• Class D is effective fighting fires involving combustible metals like magnesium, sodium, potassium, sodium-potassium alloy uranium and powdered aluminum.
• Class K is effective fighting fires involving restaurant grease.
If any of these symbols are missing on a portable fire extinguisher, it has not been rated for this class of fire.
The numbers on the label represent the area the extinguisher will cover. Class B fires are measured in square feet. Class A is measured in cubic feet, such as 1A equals 8 cubic feet. There is no area measurement for Class C.
Types of Fire Extinguishers
BC dry powder extinguisher is the most common and least expensive extinguisher. The material used in this type of extinguisher is non-toxic Sodium Bicarbonate. In a non-motorized RV (trailer or 5th wheel) no matter the size or type of construction, only one 5 BC extinguisher is required. For motorized RV’s classes A, B or C motor homes no matter the size, only one 10 BC extinguisher is required. This means 5 or 10 square feet of a Class B fire fueled by flammable or combustible liquids or flammable gas (LPG)) and Class C energized 120v electrical. These extinguishers pack easily and can loose air over time.
ABC dry chemical extinguisher is the second most common extinguisher used in motor homes. The material used in this type of extinguisher is Monoammonium Phosphate. This material has a Hazardous Material Identification System number of HMIS 1-0-0. These numbers mean the material is a Hazardous Material that is toxic. This material becomes very corrosive when heated. It is very difficult to clean because it melts to the surfaces it comes in contact with. This type of extinguisher has very limited Class A extinguishing ability (common combustibles, paper, fiberglass, wood, 12v wiring and most of the materials used in RV’s or boats). It takes a large ABC dry chemical extinguisher to handle a relatively small Class A fire. These extinguishers also pack easily and loose air.
Purple K (PKP) BC dry chemical extinguisher. The material used in this type of extinguisher is Potassium Bicarbonate. This material has a Hazardous Materials Identification System number of HMIS 1-0-0. These numbers mean that this material is a hazardous material and is toxic. PKP is also corrosive, and is mainly used by the military and airports. This extinguisher packs and can loose air over time.
CO2 extinguishers, the material in this extinguisher is Carbon Dioxide Gas. These extinguishers are heavy and are tested by weighing the extinguisher. These extinguishers are used primarily around electrical equipment and some flammable liquids. Avoid using this type of extinguisher on or near computers because the gas is very cold and can harm electrical components. CO2 is not a good outdoor fire extinguisher because it is easily dispersed by the wind.
Halon extinguishers are more expensive and harder to find or refill for the general public. Halon is very hazardous when used on a fire because of the chemical change it goes through. During the heat phase of the fire, Halon changes to hydrogen fluoride, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen sulfide. During the cool down phase, it changes one more time into phosgene gas. Halon is not a good outdoor fire extinguisher because it is easily dispersed by the wind. When Halon first came out, it was thought that it absorbed oxygen. It doesn’t, it displaces oxygen in the area of the fire. Halon’s danger comes from the chemical changes it goes through.
Halatron I is a popular replacement for Halon (there are others). It is environmentally friendly but still has some of the same hazards. Halatron I is very expensive for the average RVer, boater or home owner. It is also easily dispersed by the wind. A 1A 10BC extinguisher weighs 23lbs and will cost about $250.00 and a 2A 10BC will cost about $350.00.
Class A Foam & Class B AFFF Foam. Class A foam works very well on wood products as well as Fiberglass RV walls because of its ability to cling and penetrate a vertical surface. However, it does not work as well on hydrocarbon fires because it does not flow horizontally as does Class B foam. The material used in this type of application is Aqueous Film Forming Foam. The Fire Service and the Military have used this type of foam for over 60 years. This material is slightly toxic and corrosive. It has not been readily available to the general public. There has been little to no education on this type of material for use in the RV or boating industry. AFFF Foam cools and covers the Class B fuel to extinguish the fire. Firefighters must be careful not to disturb the foam blanket so the vapors do not re-ignite. AFFF Class B foam does not cling to a vertical surface.
ABDK COLDFIRE Wetting Agent from COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM has NEW Hand Held extinguishers that can be refillable by the purchaser. This ultimate hand held extinguisher is used for Class A, B, D, and K fires. The fine spray from the unique nozzle provides user safety if using on a Class C fire. The nozzle also greatly enhances the cooling and soaking characteristics of ColdFire®, and reduces scattering of the burning materials. COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM units have been designed to meet most residential, commercial, recreational vehicle and industrial applications. COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM HH units are available in 1L, and 2L, sizes. COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM is also available in the NEW 1L, 2L 3L & 4L Automatic engine fire system for your diesel pusher. COLDFIRE is a UL and ULC Listed Wetting Agent for Class A & B fires, EPA-SNAP Listed and considered an acceptable substitute for the traditional toxic foams and Halon 1211.
ABDK type FOAM/Wetting Agent from FireAde2000 is a NEW TECHNOLOGY, MULTI FEATURED fire fighting and control medium that combines the benefits of 6 different chemical technologies – all in one product. Use of the 16 oz FireAde2000 as a; fire fighting medium, cooling medium, hazardous spill control medium, toxic smoke scrubber, vapor control medium and bioremediation medium. Over 20 years of in house and independent research and testing has led to the refinement of a truly versatile product which has been proven unequivocally to be the most advanced fire suppression technology available today. FireAde2000 is a UL and ULC Listed FOAM/Wetting Agent for Class A & B fires. The 16oz FireAde2000 has the same fire fighting ability as a Dry Chemical extinguisher rated 1A 10B, and is used extensively in the racing industry. FireAde2000 is one of the main fire fighting materials in most European countries.
Recommendation - The Foam and Wetting Agent Extinguishers are great for RVs, boats, business, homes and most other applications. There is an organization called the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) that acts as an advocate for public safety. Among other things, the NFPA makes recommendations for the type, size, and location of fire extinguishers for businesses and industry.
Fire departments and fire extinguisher companies that refill and service extinguishers are the watchdogs that insure the NFPA's standards are met. Thanks to these standards, fire extinguishers are in many public buildings and are required in RVs, boats, RV parks, and service stations.
Although the NFPA standards are overall, positive, the standards require the use of certain older style extinguishers such as the dry powder and dry chemical extinguishers. If you have ever used a dry powder or dry chemical fire extinguisher, you'll remember the mess it created. Moreover, it may not have put out the fire or kept it out. Some of the so-called clean agent Halon and CO2 extinguishers lose some of their effectiveness on a windy day and in a confined space, such as an RV or boat. They can also be toxic, heavy and expensive.
I see several problems for us, the public outside of our jobs. (1) There are no standards that say we have to know how to use them. (2) There is no standard to show us how to check and maintain the extinguishers to make sure they will work. We assume that someone else checks them and someone else will be there to use them. (3) There is no standard that requires the manufacture to explain all the information that's on the label. (4) There is no requirement to tell us the "End User" when there is something NEW and better than the OLD material we have always had. Not even the Fire Service has all the answers to what we need for our safety.
That's why I recommend the NEW foam/wetting agent and/or the NEW wetting agent fire extinguishers. These NEW extinguishers are the extinguishers of the future. As mentioned above, they come in ABDK NEW Wetting Agent ColdFire or ABDK FireAde2000 Foam/Wetting Agent. These extinguishers may be just what the doctor ordered for the RVing lifestyle. You also may want to consider the COLDFIRE SUPERSYSTEM engine compartment extinguisher for your diesel pusher. Remember, above all, your life and the lives of your loved ones may rely on what you know about fire and life safety.
Mac McCoy is a 33-year fire-fighting veteran who has worked as a fire fighter paramedic, company officer, training Chief, deputy sheriff and before retiring, the Fire Service Training Coordinator for the State of Oregon. Mac has a bachelor's degree in Fire Science and a master's degree in Fire Administration. He has taught fire safety to thousands of civilians, firefighters, law enforcement and corrections officers across the U.S. and abroad.
For more on Fire & Life Safety information and an on line extinguisher training program contact Mac McCoy at (503) 559-7623 to order products go too macthefireguy.com for emails go to firstname.lastname@example.org to leave a message.
All of the information in this article has been taken from the NFPA 10 Standard on Portable Fire Extinguishers, the NFPA booklet on Portable Fire Extinguishers, Material Safety Data Sheets provided by Kidde, First Alert, Fire Freeze (Cold Fire), and FireAde2000.