Fire extinguishers are a vital component of fire safety, crucial for the immediate suppression of small fires and preventing them from escalating into larger, unmanageable disasters. In the UK, having the right type of fire extinguisher, knowing how to use it, and keeping it well-maintained is not only a matter of safety but also a legal requirement for most businesses. This comprehensive guide provides detailed insights into the different types of fire extinguishers, their specific uses, and the essential maintenance practices required to keep them operational in the UK.

Understanding the Different Types of Fire Extinguishers

The UK recognises several classes of fire, each of which is suitable for fighting different types of fire. Selecting the right fire extinguisher involves understanding these classes:

  • Water Extinguishers (Class A): Ideal for fires involving organic materials such as wood, paper, and textiles. Water extinguishers cool the burning material and quench the flames.
  • Foam Extinguishers (Class A & B): Effective on liquid fires (like petrol or paints) as well as organic materials. These extinguishers smother the fire by forming a foam blanket over the liquid.
  • Dry Powder Extinguishers (Class A, B, C, and Electrical): Versatile and powerful, suitable for fires involving flammable gases, liquids, electrical equipment, and organic materials. However, they do not cool the fire, so re-ignition is possible.
  • CO2 Extinguishers (Class B and Electrical): Best for fires in electrical equipment and flammable liquids because they suffocate the fire without leaving any residue, which could harm sensitive machinery.
  • Wet Chemical Extinguishers (Class F): Specially designed for cooking oil and fat fires, commonly used in commercial kitchens. They work by creating a soap-like solution that cools and smothers the fire.

Choosing the Right Fire Extinguisher for Your Needs

Selecting the correct fire extinguisher depends on the specific risks associated with the environment where it will be used. For example, an office with a lot of electrical equipment will benefit from having CO2 extinguishers, while a restaurant should opt for wet chemical extinguishers in the kitchen and a combination of water and foam extinguishers in other areas.

Maintenance and Servicing: Keeping Fire Extinguishers Ready

Regular maintenance and servicing of fire extinguishers are critical to ensure they will function as expected in an emergency. In the UK, fire extinguisher maintenance is governed by British Standards (BS 5306-3:2009) which recommend at least annual servicing by a competent person. Key aspects of fire extinguisher maintenance include:

  • Visual Inspections: Check for signs of damage, corrosion, leakage, or tampering. Inspections should be carried out monthly.
  • Annual Servicing: Conducted by professionals to ensure that fire extinguishers will operate correctly if needed. This includes checking the weight, checking for pressure, replacing parts, and refilling if necessary.
  • Extended Servicing and Recharging: Every five years for water, foam, and wet chemical extinguishers, and every ten years for dry powder and CO2 extinguishers. This involves discharging the extinguisher, checking for internal corrosion, recharging, or replacing if necessary.

Compliance and Legal Requirements

Under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, all business premises in the UK are required to have appropriate fire-fighting equipment, which includes fire extinguishers. The equipment must be serviced regularly and maintained in working order, and staff should be trained in how to use them effectively.


Fire extinguishers are a fundamental aspect of fire safety in the UK, essential for the safety of individuals and property. Understanding the different types of fire extinguishers, their appropriate uses, and adhering to regular maintenance schedules are crucial steps in ensuring comprehensive fire safety and compliance with UK regulations. Whether you’re looking to equip a new building with the right type of extinguishers or aiming to update your current fire safety equipment, comprehensive knowledge and regular upkeep are key to ensuring safety and readiness at all times.