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A comprehensive comparison between fire blankets and fire extinguishers

Both fire blankets and fire extinguishers can extinguish small fires—so, how do they differ and what should you know about each? Let’s compare how they perform in terms of ease of use, reusability, and appropriate use cases.

Fire extinguishers are a go-to piece of fire safety equipment for a reason

Fire extinguishers are perhaps the best-known method of fighting small fires in their early stages. With options ranging from the versatile ABC fire extinguisher, which can tackle a range of common fires, to CO2 extinguishers, which do not leave residue and work on fires involving flammable liquids, gases, and electrical equipment, there’s a fire extinguisher for practically every application.

Unfortunately, many homes don’t even have a fire extinguisher, though cooking fires alone caused “an average of 471 home … fires per day” during a period studied between 2012 and 2016. In contrast, extinguishers are common at work and in public spaces since they’re required by law in commercial buildings. Fire extinguishers are also a great idea for vehicles.

The pros of fire extinguishers

They are very effective when used properly

Fire extinguishers are relatively easy to use, and are effective in extinguishing fires 95 percent of the time. This, of course, applies when a fire is in a relatively early, containable stage. But even when a fire extinguisher could not completely put out the fire, fire extinguishers often limited damage and provided some degree of control over the situation until fire fighters could arrive.

A wide range of sizes are available for different structures and threats

When seconds count, fire extinguishers can either stop a fire or give you time to retreat safely. We supply ABC fire extinguishers with capacities ranging from 0.5kg of dry powder to 50kg powder trolley fire extinguishers. The capacities of the CO2 models range from 2kg Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Fire Extinguishers to 25kg Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Trolley Fire Extinguisher . The smaller extinguishers are recommended for vehicle, home, or office use, while larger ones are needed for bigger areas and those with more combustible materials, like warehouses or production environments.

Fire extinguishers allow you to fight a fire from a safer distance

The range of a fire extinguisher also varies with its size and capacity, but all of them allow a user to stand off some distance from a fire. For example, a 25kg Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Trolley Fire Extinguisher has a discharge range of ≥3.5m while a 50kg Powder Trolley Fire Extinguisher has a discharge range of ≥9m. You can then work your way to the base of the fire if possible, or retreat if you are not able to contain it.

Fire extinguishers: cons and considerations

Using them requires some training

A fire extinguisher can be used by most people, but employing one safely and effectively does call for a bit of training. Note that Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations require formal training for facilities under their jurisdiction.

The right way to use a fire extinguisher is often described by the acronym P.A.S.S:

  • P – Pull the Pin.
  • A – Aim the Nozzle at the Base of the Fire.
  • S – Squeeze the Handles Together.
  • S – Sweep Back and Forth.
How to safely use a fire extinguisher

While doing this, you should take care to begin spraying while standing at a safe distance, even if the spray is not quite reaching the base of the fire. You can move closer if the fire is dying out as you advance.

Larger capacity fire extinguishers are heavy

The larger a fire extinguisher is, the longer it will be able to fight a fire—and the heavier it will be. People who lack upper body strength may struggle to pick up a larger fire extinguisher like a 9L Water Fire Extinguisher model or take it off a wall bracket safely. A 4kg dry powder fire extinguisher model can be handled by most people, but it is, of course, lower in capacity and range.

Clean-up after discharge can be significant

If you’ve got a choice between a fire and a mess, you’ll choose the mess every time. But the cleaning required after using a fire extinguisher is something to consider. Clean-up needs vary by type, and common ABC fire extinguishers, unfortunately, leave a residue that is one of the more difficult discharges to handle. You may need professional help cleaning up after a discharge, especially if the residue has gotten into ductwork—the dry chemical is toxic, and you must avoid getting it into any waterways.

Fire extinguishers must be replaced or recharged after use

Once a fire extinguisher is used, it must be replaced or recharged, even if it was not completely discharged. Commercial grade fire extinguishers can often be serviced and recharged after use, but many inexpensive extinguishers, like those sold in retail stores, are designed for one use only and must be replaced.

Fire blankets: a great option for containing fires and protecting people from flames—but not for fighting a fire that’s already spreading

Fire blankets work on a simple principle: smother the fire and deprive it of oxygen. To do this effectively, they have to be non-flammable themselves and provide as much of a barrier for heat and oxygen as possible. A modern commercial fire blanket will contain a fiberglass layer to achieve this purpose and the blanket will be designed to keep the fiberglass from coming in contact with skin.

A fire blanket should be mounted on a wall near (but not directly over) the area where it might be needed. A fire blanket typically comes with a protective cover that clearly identifies it and instructs the user on how to extract the blanket.

Pros of fire blankets

They can be used for personal protection

If a person’s hair or clothing is on fire, wrapping them up in a fire blanket can be an important part of the ‘stop, drop and roll’ technique which is taught to minimize burns and injury. Fire blankets are especially useful if the person involved is not physically able to move rapidly due to age, medical condition, or physical limitations.

In a similar situation, discharging a chemical fire extinguisher around a person’s face could cause serious lung damage which could compound problems caused by smoke inhalation

If a fire is out of control and you are surrounded by flames, a fire blanket may also help protect you and those you are helping if you must evacuate near areas exposed to flames.

Fire blankets can’t be used safely on larger fires

If a fire is becoming widespread, a fire blanket can’t be deployed effectively. A typical fire blanket size is about 1.8m by 1.8m. Sizes much larger than this can become unwieldy for one person to handle. If the fire is extensive, it’s not a good idea to attempt to use a fire blanket, except as mentioned above for personal protection.

Fire blankets also require a bit of training

Without proper training, it could be easy to panic while approaching a fire, causing you to drop or throw the blanket. This could make things worse by spreading flaming liquids or fanning the flames. If you fail to wrap your hands in the corners of the blanket, you could burn yourself. For all these reasons, deploying fire blankets should include some training in how and when they are used, just as you would for fire extinguishers.

Fire blankets and fire extinguishers each have a role in fire safety

You should not be without a fire extinguisher—they are required for commercial spaces and highly recommended for all homes. They can prevent or minimize damage before the fire department can arrive and often put out fires in their earlier stages. But while fire extinguishers are more familiar to most of us, you should consider adding fire blankets to your fire protection strategy.

A fire blanket may help avoid a clean-up effort and they are particularly useful for small cooking fires that are caught early. This piece of equipment could also be a life-saver for yourself, a family member, or a coworker if someone catches on fire or needs to evacuate near flames. Fire blankets are an especially good idea for kitchens and areas where vessels and containers might catch fire. And they are also worth considering if you have elderly or infirm people in your home or place of business—who may not be able to drop and roll to smother a fire on their person.

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