Water Fire Extinguishers & How To Use Them
From the colour of their label and their types and uses, here’s our comprehensive guide to water fire extinguishers.
Water has been used to extinguish fires for centuries, so it comes as no surprise that water has also been adapted for use in today’s modern fire protective equipment. Water fire extinguishers are the most widely used of all fire extinguisher types, as they can be used to combat the most common types of fire – class A fires.
According to the UK fire classes categorisation, Class A fires are caused by combustible materials commonly found in our ordinary life, such as wood, paper, furniture and textile. A Class A fire can occur anywhere from residential homes to office buildings, shops, hotels and schools. This is why water fire extinguishers can be found in every public and commercial building in the UK.
What colour is a water fire extinguisher
Most fire extinguishers in the UK are stored in a red canister (you can also find some in a silver-coloured aluminium or steel canister) but each fire extinguisher type has a different coloured label. A water extinguisher has a red label. The label will have the word “Water” clearly written on it, so in case of a fire, you can easily recognise the water fire extinguisher.
Water fire extinguishers typically come in larger sizes of up to 15kg, with the most popular being the 6kg and 9kg varieties. You will see that there are a hose and a nozzle attached to every unit. Those are used to spray the flames with a jet of water.
How do water fire extinguishers work?
The common water fire extinguisher is also called a water spray fire extinguisher. It uses water to cool down the flames and break down the fire triangle. It also prevents re-ignition as the common combustible materials, such as wood or paper, don’t burn when they are wet.
However, remember to never try to extinguish an electrical fire with a water fire extinguisher. Water is a great conductor of electricity which means that you risk electrocuting yourself if you spray water over a piece of burning electrical equipment. Water fire extinguishers are also not suitable for use on fires involving flammable liquid and kitchen fires.
Water Fire Extinguishers vs Water Mist Fire Extinguishers
Both water and water mist fire extinguishers use water as an extinguishing agent. However, they operate differently. Water extinguishers are highly pressurized so when the jet of water is sprayed out of the nozzle, it can penetrate deep into the fire. Water mist fire extinguishers, on the other hand, spray the water gently in the form of a mist of fine particles that penetrate the flames and reduce the temperature of the flames, as well as the level of oxygen.
This is why, although traditional water fire extinguishers can be used only on Class A fires, the modern water mist fire extinguishers can be used to extinguish almost all types of fires (except class D fires – fires involving flammable metals).
How to use a water fire extinguisher
As a general rule, if you find yourself in a burning building, you should always sound the alarm first and then look for a safe evacuation route you can take. Never attempt to use a fire extinguisher if the flames are too big, spreading too fast or if there’s too much smoke.
If there is any danger of not being able to get out of the room, don’t risk engaging in a firefighting attempt, simply follow the evacuation protocol and leave via the nearest escape exit. Once you’ve safely exited the building, call the fire authorities for help.
It’s worth saying that if you haven’t had the appropriate fire safety training and you don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher, it’s also best to not try to extinguish the fire.
However, if you do find yourself faced with a small fire and you have a water fire extinguisher nearby, here’s how to use it step by step:
- Break the tamper seal
- Direct the nozzle towards the base of the fire
- Squeeze the lever to release the water
- If the fire is spreading horizontally, aim across the flames (side-to-side movement)
- If the fire is spreading vertically, start by aiming at the base and move the jet upwards
- Continue until the flames are extinguished
Always start off by standing at a safe distance from the fire and move closer towards it as the flames go down. Once the fire looks under control, look for areas that could reignite and focus the water spray on those. This will prevent the fire from re-starting.
After a water fire extinguisher has been discharged, it must be replaced. You should also expect to have to do some cleaning, as there will likely be a sizable puddle of water left behind.
Water fire extinguisher legal requirements
According to the UK fire extinguisher regulations (BS 5306-8), every building must be equipped with at least two water fire extinguishers on every floor and if you are a business owner, it is your responsibility to ensure those are installed properly and maintained regularly.
Every water fire extinguisher must be:
- BS EN3 Certified
- Commissioned by a professional before first use
- Securely fitted on special brackets or stands
- Clearly visible and easily accessible
- Serviced by a specialist at least once a year
- Replaced every 5-6 years
Water extinguishers are an essential part of your fire safety at work, so getting a reliable, functioning unit is extremely important to ensuring everyone’s safety and achieving regulatory compliance with the relevant fire safety industry standards and legislation.
Where should you point the water jet when using a water fire extinguisher?
You should always aim the nozzle of the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire but the movement of the water jet will depend on whether the fire is spreading horizontally or vertically:
- Horizontally – aim at the base and move the water jet slowly from side to side
- Vertically – aim at the base and move the water jet slowly upwards
How do you use a water extinguisher?
To use a water fire extinguisher, you should follow the steps below:
- Break the tamper seal
- Aim towards the base of the fire
- Squeeze the lever to discharge the fire extinguisher
- If the fire is spreading horizontally, move the water jet from side to side
- If the fire is spreading vertically, move the jet from the bottom to the top
- Stop once the flames are extinguished or the extinguisher is fully discharged