Potential Safety Hazards With Fire Extinguishers

Written by erin steeley
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Potential Safety Hazards With Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers can have potential safety hazards if misused. (Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of Jeremy Burgin)

Having a fire extinguisher in your home is a safety must-have, but there are potential hazards to be aware of. Misuse, poor maintenance and other hidden hazards can cause accident and injury.

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Types of Fire Extinguishers

Using the correct fire extinguisher for each particular type of fire is extremely important. Using the wrong type can make a dangerous situation worse. The main types of fire extinguishers are: Class A for rags, wood and paper; Class B for liquid flammables; Class C for electrical equipment; and Class D for combustible metals, including magnesium, aluminum, and also potassium and sodium fires.

Selecting the Correct Extinguisher

Controlling a small fire with the proper kind of extinguisher is crucial, and the consequences of choosing the wrong one can be deadly. Electrical fires require a Class C fire extinguisher, but if one with a water base is used, the individual is in danger of being electrocuted. A flammable liquids fire can flash and spread if any type of water or water-based extinguisher is used. This is important in areas with hazardous chemicals, such as laboratories and manufacturing facilities where extinguishers must be chosen based on Material Safety and Data Sheets.

Environment Concerns

The environment in which a fire occurs can alter an extinguisher's effectiveness in fighting the fire. For example, if the area is very cold, it could lower the ability of a water-based extinguisher to work. Confined spaces with poor air circulation require an extinguisher with a longer nozzle. Using too short of a nozzle in an enclosed space brings the individual closer to the fire and increases the chance of injury.


If fire extinguishers are not properly maintained, a number of hazards can appear without warning. If an extinguisher is not serviced in a timely manner, it may not work when it is needed. A professional should install extinguishers that don't contain toxic chemicals which vaporize, such as methyl bromide. These can cause injury to the user. The extinguisher should also be put in an area where it will not corrode or sustain damage, which can lead to accidents, misfires or the inability to be used in the event of a fire.

Training Users

People who will possibly operate a fire extinguisher, if not properly trained, can cause injury to themselves and others. If a person approaches a large fire without an escape route and too small of a fire extinguisher, the chances of being injured climb dramatically. Operators should know the types, proper use and placing of extinguishers to prevent accidents. Being knowledgeable about fire extinguishers and their proper use makes them safer and more effective.

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