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What Is the Meaning of the Colors on Fire Extinguishers?

You probably don't think much about fire extinguishers beyond making sure they're tested and working properly. Maybe you have noticed the colors on the labels and wondered what they mean. Designated purpose and cultural preferences are the 2 biggest determinants behind the colors of fire extinguishers.

What Is the Meaning of the Colors on Fire Extinguishers?

You probably don't think much about fire extinguishers beyond making sure they're tested and working properly.  Maybe you have noticed the colors on the labels and wondered what they mean.

Designated purpose and cultural preferences are the 2 biggest determinants behind the colors of fire extinguishers. 


Identification

Fire extinguishers are metal canisters containing materials that will, when released, put out fires. 


History

Type A fires can be put out with water.

The first fire extinguisher used a blast of gunpowder to send water exploding over a fire.  Colors originally represented contents--red for water, blue for powder, yellow for foam, black for carbon dioxide.


Types

Type B fires may be chemical or grease fires.

Some substances can make fires worse--water on electrical or grease fires, for example--so chemicals have been developed to fight different types of fires.  The United States organizes fires into 5 types.

Some countries use 6 types. 


Function

Type C fires involve electrical circuitry.

Color coding today represents the type of fire for which an extinguisher is designed and is more common in Europe and the United Kingdom than the United States. 


Considerations

Type D fires involve metals; Type K fires are kitchen related.

As more chemicals were developed for fighting fires, labeling became more complicated and new colors were added.  Multi-use extinguishers had to display bands of colors.


Significance

Universal pictographs tell what contents can--and cannot--be used for.

Extinguisher color codes have evolved differently in many countries.  Although colors are still used in some applications, extinguisher contents are now universally identified by labels that display letters or pictographs that represent the types of fires for which they are effective.

About the Author

An avid perennial gardener and old house owner, Laura Reynolds has had careers in teaching and juvenile justice. A retired municipal judgem Reynolds holds a degree in communications from Northern Illinois University. Her six children and stepchildren served as subjects of editorials during her tenure as a local newspaper editor.

Photo Credits

  • Aberdeenshire (UK) government, Hanford Fire Department
  • Aberdeenshire (UK) government, Hanford Fire Department