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Health and Safety Services

Use of Fire Extinguishers

There are different types of fire extinguisher. At Birkbeck the main types are Water (H2O) and Carbon Dioxide (CO2). All modern fire extinguishers in the EC have a red casing plus a contrasting coloured band that indicates the contents.   Thus a modern Carbon Dioxide extinguisher will be red with a black band.  The contents will also be written on the extinguisher e.g. a modern water extinguisher will have white writing on its red casing.
Look closely at the extinguishers around where you work and identify what type they are.  The table below should assist you to identify your extinguishers and their uses:-

New Colours
Red with White
Water or water with special additive
Paper, Wood, Fabrics
Red with Black
Carbon Dioxide
Electrical Fires, Flammable Liquids, Flammable Gases
Red with Blue
General use
Red with Cream
Flammable Liquids, Paper, Wood, Fabrics

Use of fire fighting appliances:

1.  Warn others:
At Birkbeck - set off the alarm to let everyone know there is a problem.  An alarm in any building will be picked up by the duty attendant at Malet Street and the fire brigade will be called.  At home, try to call the fire brigade before you tackle a fire or get someone else to do so.  In all cases only tackle a fire if you really know what you are doing. 

2. Select the correct appliance - Not all types of extinguisher are suitable for use on any fire - see table above. Getting it right is very important.  Using a water extinguisher where electricity is present could get you electrocuted.  Using water on flammable liquids is likely to cause an explosion, cover you with burning liquid and spread the fire.  CO2 and Dry Powder (dry powder is the type that is on sale for home or car use) exclude the oxygen and put out the fire but they don't cool down the material much so when the oxygen returns e.g. when the powder gets blown about - the fire can restart!  

3. Operate - Release the trigger mechanism by pulling out a plastic tag. On water & foam take a good hold of the hose.  On CO2 - move the discharge horn up to a right angle with the body and support the body -  DO NOT HOLD THE HORN WHEN OPERATING - the CO2 will make a metal horn so cold your hand could freeze to it!    Pull the trigger. CO2 will be very, very noisy. With CO2 and water, aim at the base of the fire i.e. where the burning material is.   With foam and powder, lay a blanket of foam or powder on top of the burning area.  If you have second thoughts or the extinguisher runs out and the fire is still going - get out!

4. Fire Blankets - A fire blanket is very good for small fires. Pull out the blanket from its case. Check the fire is smaller than the blanket.  Hold it well up in front of you by the top corners and keep your hands tucked in behind the blanket. Place it over the fire and smother it. Don't take it back off for half an hour! That will let the material cool down. 

5.  Afterwards -  At Birkbeck: report everything to the duty attendant or the Health and Safety Officer.  If at home - always call the fire brigade to check that everything is definitely out as there may be debris smoldering behind a cupboard or furniture.. 

6.  Remember - Don't be a hero - if you don't know exactly what you are doing  - just get out, stay out and leave it to the professionals

Tips for the home -  Buy and fit smoke detectors. Work out an evacuation plan in case there is a fire.  Tell all the family what it is!  If you buy a fire fighting appliance - get two. Read how they work! Hang them somewhere you will be able to reach them easily e.g. by the exit doors  - not in a cupboard out of the way or beside the cooker!

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Health & Safety Services, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX. Tel: 020 7631 6218, email: