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Fire Extinguishers: A Guide

What is a Fire Extinguisher and why would I need one?

Fire extinguishers are used to stop or contain small fires. They are not meant for fires that have grown too large, or that need the expertise of a fire brigade to put out. Considering that there are over 7000 residential fires reported in Canada each year, it’s a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher easily accessible in your home. Fire creates heat, toxic fumes, and smoke that can damage property and take lives – so it’s a sound investment! There are a few types of fire extinguishers: water, dry chemical powder, foam, or aerosol.

Do I need a fire extinguisher


Some fire extinguishers use air pressure or pump systems to shoot water or antifreeze mixes at a fire. These are most common in places where freezing is a concern, like in barns or outbuildings. Water-based extinguishers cool the burning material below its ignition point to put out a fire. This is effective against ‘common combustibles’ including wood, paper, fabrics, or furniture (class A fires). This type of fire extinguisher should not be used for grease or oil fires as it can push the oil around and spread the flames.

Chemical Powder / Dry Chemical

Dry chemical fire extinguishers discharge a powder containing a variety of chemicals designed to stop the chemical reaction that creates fire. There are various chemical mixes available for most classes of fire (more on fire classes below.) These are the most common type of extinguisher and usually look like a red metal cylinder with an attached hose and handle.


Foam extinguishers create a blanket of foam over a fire to prevent the flames from getting any oxygen. These can be used against the common combustibles fires we discussed before (paper, wood, furniture, etc) and on flammable or combustible liquids. This does not include cooking oils and grease as they have a higher burn point, but does include oil and gasoline.


Aerosol fire extinguishers use a similar method to chemical powder – breaking up the chemical reaction that creates fire. Condensed aerosol suppressants are sprayed to smother the fire. Aerosol options tend to have much easier clean up than the other options, and the containers are smaller and lightweight. Total Prepare carries a wonderful aerosol option – the Element E50 – if you’re looking for a recommended option!

The Element E50 Fire Extinguisher web banner

What are the Different Classes of Extinguishers and How Do They Work?

Fires are classified into different classes based on what they are burning. Fire extinguishers are designed around different classes of fire, so plan to have the right extinguisher to hand, depending on what kinds of fire are most likely. If you travel oversees, keep in mind the classifications are a little different – you may want to look them up before you go.

Element E50 Fire Extinguisher types of fires small

A Class A fire involves ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth, furniture, and trash. These can be extinguished with plain water, or an extinguisher.

A Class B fire burns flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, kerosene and other petroleum products.

A Class C extinguisher is designed to put out electrical fires involving live wires or equipment that uses electricity for power. Water or foam extinguishers are not to be used on electrical fires as they can conduct electricity back to the user or spread a conductive layer of water on the floor that electricity can use to jump. Many fire fighting deaths have been caused by electric shock.

A Class D extinguisher is designed for use in a metal-working or chemical laboratory where the combustible materials might be metals or certain chemicals. Some elements burn on contact with water or air, which makes them tricky to fight! Happily, most people won’t need to deal with this kind of fire in day to day life.

A Class K extinguisher is designed for use on cooking oils with a high flash point such as almond oil and sesame oil. While these are technically flammable liquid fires (class B) they are denoted as a separate subclass the high flash points were important enough to recognize them separately. Fire blankets can be effective against these kinds of kitchen fires, as well as extinguishers. Never use water to avoid scattering the flame.

How to Choose the Best Type of Fire Extinguisher for Your Needs

As we have covered, there can be a lot of variation between one extinguisher and the next. When trying to figure out which is best for your household, there are a few things to consider:

1. Where do you need a fire extinguisher? 

The kitchen is always a good place to have an extinguisher, but will you need them in other areas of the home? If you have a fireplace, like to use candles in a certain room, or have a workshop/garage where fire is a possibility, they are good places to have a fire extinguisher handy. Think about which rooms need one, and which areas are close enough together that they could share.

2. What kind of fires would you expect?

Go through your list of rooms where a fire might occur. What might start the fire? What would be likely to burn? Look through the classes of fires above and mark down what classes you think you’ll need in each place. Commonly, people will have a class K extinguisher in the kitchen, and a combination A/B/C extinguishers in other areas – but consider your unique needs before deciding on a course of action.

3. Are you prepared to do regular maintenance?

All traditional fire extinguishers should be checked annually by a professional to make sure they are in good working order. They also expire (usually ~10 years) so be prepared to replace old canisters.

4. Total Prepare’s recommendation

As already mentioned, Total Prepare carries the Element E50 Fire Extinguisher. We don’t usually sell fire extinguishers, but we couldn’t help ourselves when we saw what this small yet mighty extinguisher could do. No mess, no expiration or maintenance, non-toxic, longggggggggg (5x others) discharge time, and extinguishes class A, B, C, and K fires. All of that and it’s a fraction of the size and weight of a traditional extinguisher? You can keep it in a hot car? Safe around kids and pets? Sign us up!

So, while we might be a little bias, we genuinely think this has to be one of the best extinguisher options on the market (if not THE best.) Want to learn more? You can see all the product details, or pick up a few for your home, here.

NOTE: If you’re looking for an extinguisher for a business, you’ll need a traditional canister extinguisher. Most regulations have not been updated to include anything that’s not contained in a metal cannister. Hopefully they’ll catch up to the latest innovations soon!

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher Safely and Effectively?

It is important to know how to use a fire extinguisher in an emergency. The last thing you want is to get to a blaze, and then need to stop and read instructions. For traditional extinguishers, you will want to pull the pin on the extinguisher (it should have a little loop on it to make it easy.) Remove the pin completely. This breaks the tamper seal so the unit won’t work until this is done.

Next, aim the extinguisher’s nozzle at the fire’s base. Don’t shoot the top of the flames – the heart of the fire is at the bottom. Traditional extinguishers only discharge for around 10 seconds, so aiming first is really important!

Squeeze the trigger to start discharging your extinguisher’s contents (water, foam, or dry powder) and move the spray over the fire’s base in a sweeping motion.

A fire extinguisher can be used on small, contained fires. It should not be used on large or extreme fires. Fire extinguishers are designed for specific types of fire, so don’t use them for fires they are not designed for. In some cases this can make the fire worse or introduce new hazards.

When using a fire extinguisher, it is important that you read the instructions carefully because there may be additional safety precautions when using the extinguisher in certain situations such as when there is a gas leak or if you are below ground level.

Using the Element E50 Fire Extinguisher Safely and Effectively

Element E50 Fire Extinguisher how to use

The Element saves space by keeping it’s entire design in one small tube, so there are no nozzles or triggers. Simply remove and discard the cap, remove the striker from the bottom of the tube, and scratch the striker to the tip of the extinguisher. This will trigger the gas to begin pouring out and it can be aimed at the fire.

Because the Element uses a gas to deny the flames of oxygen, it’s best to create a cloud around the fire to prevent any new oxygen from reaching it. The Element has a long (50 second) discharge time, and it is best not to rush the process. Start at the outside of the fire and work your way in.

See the Element in action:

Thanks for reading!

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