Portable fire extinguishers are a tool for suppression of fire in its incipient phase, and are present in UW System facilities.

Fire extinguisherThe most common fire extinguisher uses a dry chemical powder to extinguish flames, while some use pressurized water or wet chemicals. Other extinguishers use carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide extinguishers can be used on electrical fires, as they do not leave a residue which might damage electrical equipment, but they should not be used in confined spaces where the carbon dioxide may replace oxygen. Each type of extinguisher is to be used to put out a specific type, or “class,” of fire.

Class A: Regular combustibles such as wood, cloth and paper
Class B: Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil and certain paints
Class C: Electrical fire such as over-heating electrical wires
Class D: Combustible metals such as titanium, sodium or magnesium
Class K: Food products such as certain cooking oils and animal fats

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states that all portable fire extinguishers be inspected on a monthly basis (NFPA 10, Section 6.2.1) and maintained by a licensed fire protection company on an annual basis. (NFPA 10, Section 6.3.1) Monthly inspections include ensuring that the extinguisher has enough pressure to work properly, that the extinguisher is in its designated place and has not been used, and that the extinguisher contains no obvious defects such as puncture holes, corrosion, or broken or missing parts.

All fire extinguishers must also be readily accessible to these properly trained employees. Inaccessible fire extinguishers allow small fires to grow into large ones, causing a portable fire extinguisher to no longer be sufficient.

General regulatory citations and referenced standards

  • NFPA 10 — Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers
  • NFPA 1 — Fire Code
  • 29 CFR 1910.157 — Portable Fire Extinguishers


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