ABCD's of Portable Fire Extinguishers

New ABCD's of Portable Fire Extinguishers


A fire extinguisher is a storage container for an extinguishing agent such as water or chemicals. It is designed to put out a small fire, not a big one. An extinguisher is labeled according to whether the fire on which it is to be used occurs in wood or cloth, flammable liquids, electrical, or metal sources. Using one type fire can make the fire much worse. So learn how extinguishers are labeled and used. Traditionally the labels A, B, C, or D have been used to indicate the type of fire on which an extinguisher is to be used. Recently pictograms have come into use. These picture in blue type of fire on which an extinguisher is to be used. Shown in black with a red slash are pictures of fires on which the extinguisher is not to be used. NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, recommends that extinguishers be labeled with pictograms. However the user may find the traditional A, B, C, D labels on an extinguisher.

Fire Classes


A - Ordinary Combustables


Fires in ordinary combustible materials - paper, wood, fabrics, rubber, plastics require a water type extinguisher labeled A.

B - Flammable Liquids


Fires in flammable liquids - gasoline, oils, tar, paint, grease in a frying pan or in the oven and other flammable liquids require an extinguisher labeled B.

C - Electrical Equipment


Fires in live electrical equipment, wiring, fuse boxes, energized electrical equipment and other electrical sources require an extinguisher labeled C.

D - Metals


Combustible metals such as magnesium and sodium require special extinguishers labeled D.

You need an extinguisher in your home!


If you plan to buy one extinguisher, a multi-purpose dry chemical labeled ABC puts out most types of fires - wood, paper, and cloth, flammable liquid, or electrical fires. If you buy more than one, you might want to get a BC for the kitchen, an A for the living room, and an ABC for the basement and garage.

Fire Extinguishers in the Work Place


It is management's job to have extinguishers available for use and your job to know how they work.

Buying & Maintaining an Extinguisher


  1. Extinguishers come in dry chemical, foam, carbon dioxide, water, or halon types. Whatever type you buy, it should be labeled by a testing laboratory.
  2. The higher the number rating on the extinguisher, the more fire it puts out. High rated ones are often (not always) the heavier models. Make sure you can hold and operate the one you might buy for home use or be required to use at work.
  3. Ask your dealer how to have your extinguisher serviced and inspected. Recharge it after ANY use. A partially used one might as well be empty.
  4. Extinguishers should be installed away from potential fire hazards and near an escape route.
  5. For more details, see Standard for Portable fire Extinguishers, NFPA 10.