Fire Extinguisher Vs Water

Water has been used to extinguish fires all the way back through human history. Specialized fire extinguishers have existed in various forms for slightly less time. So, which one is more effective at putting out fires? Find out in this post.

Water Chemical Structure

Water is a common liquid and has the chemical structure of:

  • H2O

Water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom formed with polar bonds. 

How Does Water Extinguish Fires?

Fires require fule, oxygen, and heat to remain active. The primary way water extinguishes fire is by removing the heat by absorbing it. This puts the fire out.

Water has strong molecular bonds, and will not breakdown into oxygen and hydrogen unless it is heated to 212 degreese Farhrenheit (water’s boiling point). A fire will not be able to sustain high enough heat to turn water into gas when enough water is poured on top of it.

Another way water extinguishes fire is by simply smothering it. It will form a solid shield from the fire and air, which starves the fire of oxygen.

How Much Water Is Needed To Put Out A Fire?

This is a complicated question. For small ordinary class A fires, spraying a fire with a hose or pouring a one gallon bucket of water onto it, will likely extinguish it. However, for building fires, much more water is needed.

The ISO (ISO – International Organization for Standardization) provides a special formual for estimating the amount of water needed to fight a fire that starts in a building that lacks a sprinkler system. This is:

NFF = (Ci)(Oi)[(1.0+(X+P)i] where:

NFFi = water flow needed (GPM)
Ci = unit factor for type of construction
Oi =unit factor for type of occupancy
X = unit factor for exposed buildings
P = unit factor for communication between buildings

However, this equation is really only useful for preplanning a building prior to a fire breaking out.

Fire Extinguisher Vs Water

The National Fire Academy provides an easier fire flow formula:

L x W/3 = GPM where:

L = Length

W= width

GPM is the needed fire flow in gallons per minute.

Fire fighters often use this formula which is much easier to do on location at 2 A.M. fires. It will be obvious when more water is needed, as the fire will not go out.

Do Fire Departments Use Water?

Yes, in fact fire department mostly use water to put out fires. They usually use water from a fire hydrant, which is connected to the city’s water supply.

Other fluids and chemicals fire fighters use include, foam, dry chemicals, dry powders, wet chemicals, and Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

Water Vs. Fire Extinguisher Cost

Water is a very inexpensive way of fighting a fire. Tap water in the United States only costs about $0.01 US Dollars (one penny) for 5 gallons (20 liters). It is also very easy to access and abundant.

However, an ordinary ABC 5 lb. fire extinguisher can cost between $30-$100+ USD to purchase.

So, using water to put out a fire is much cheaper than using a standard fire extinguisher, but may be less effective in some situations.

Can Water Extinguish All Types Of Fires?

No. Water is not good at extinguishing electrical, grease, liquid oil, or metal fires. For these, using water can make them worse, and lead to a deadly outcome.

Using A Garden Hose On An Indoor Fire

Garden hoses are not well-suited to an indoor fire. Most people do not keep garden hoses connected to a kitchen sink or faucet. However, if one is just outside a kitchen, it can be quickly accessed and used to put out a growing kitchen fire. Although, by that time, it may be too late and only the fire department can help.

Using A Fire Extinguisher On An Outdoor Fire

Garden hoses are really only useful on small fires at ground level. If a house is on fire, a garden hose may not be enough to have any real impact. At this point, the fire department needs to be called and the premises evacuated.

Fire Extinguisher Vs Hose

Garden Hose Length And Spray Distance

Garden hoses come in various lengths, which range from 15 ft. to over 100 ft. They are usually 5/8 inch in diameter, but can be 3/4 inch in diameter.

A garden hose, without a sprayer attachment and running water at full, can spray between 3-6 feet. If it is held with a finger or thumb, it can spray a bit further.

A garden hose with a sprayer can reach between 10-30 feet depending on the type. This may be enough to reach the roof line on single story house.

This is opposed to a standard ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher that can reach between 12-18 feet for up to 15 seconds.

Garden Hose Vs. Fire Extinguisher Cost

Garden hoses range in cost from $15 USD (for shorter hoses) up to $80 (for large diameter farm hoses). Fire extinguishers cost a bit more, between $30-100+ USD each.

What Material Are Garden Hoses Made Of?

Most garden hoses are made of rubber (polymers) or vinyl which are good at being flexible and strong, while also preventing kinks from forming. Garden hoses also are made of multiple layers, or ply. They are rated between 1 – 6 ply, with the higher number meaning the hose is stronger and more durable.

Some garden hoses have layers of metal wire, mesh, or coils running through them, adding to their strength.

The end of garden hoses often have stainless steel couplings attached which are usually rust and corrosion resistant.

How Much Does A Bucket Hold?

An ordinary metal or plastic bucket can hold between 2 – 3 gallons (~10 liters) of water, sand, or other material.

Fire Extinguisher Vs Bucket

How Do Buckets Put Out Fires?

Buckets are useful for putting out fires because all of their contents can be poured at once onto a fire. This will have the effect of quickly smothering the fire and cutting off oxygen. However, they really are only effectice at putting out small fires that are easily accessible.

Bucket Of Water

A bucket of water is useful for extinguishing small class A and B fires (paper, wood, petroleum). Water is not safe to use on electrical or grease fires, which can actually make them worse.

Bucket Of Sand

A bucket of sand is very good for putting out nearly any type of fire. However, the sand particles must be small enough to prevent oxygen from getting through. Sand is also difficult to clean up and will remain in the area after the fire is extinguished.

Bucket Of Dirt

A bucket of dirt can be used to put out fires, as long as the dirt particles are small enough to prevent flames from reaching oxygen. Dirt may also contain dry organic material that could catch on fire. Generally, dirt should be a last resort if water or a fire extinguisher is not nearby.

How Effective Are Buckets At Extinguishing Fires?

Buckets used to pour water or sand are very effective, as long as they are accessible before the fire spreads. If the fire becomes too large, a bucket will not have enough contents to put it out.

Fire Extinguisher Vs. Bucket Cost

Metal (1-3 gallon) buckets cost between $10 – 50 USD depending on their quality and purpose.

Plastic buckets cost between $10- 30 USD.

Fire extinguisher cost between $30 – 100+ USD each.

So, if you are planning on using a bucket to put out a fire, perhaps buying a dedicated fire extinguisher is a better choice.

Fire Extinguisher Vs. Fire Hose

Fire hose spray distance is between 70-100 feet into the air. This also depends on the type of sprayer connected. Focused spray will reach further than wide sprays. However, fire fighters will usually only try to reach a fire that is 40 feet away from their hoses.

Fire hoses are specially made to fight fires, just like fire extinguishers. However, they are not meant to be used inside ordinary homes. Residential and commercial buildings will often have fire hoses stored on each floor.

Do Fire Hoses Requires Fire Hydrants?

Yes, fire hoses can only be effectively used with water out of a hydrant. Fire departments also run fire hoses out of their trucks, but the truck is connected to the city’s water supply.

For more information, see our post Fire Extinguisher Vs Fire Hydrant.

What Material Are Fire Hoses Made Of?

Modern fire hoses are made of synthetic rubber, pvc, and natural fabrics. They may also have nitrile-rubber covers.

These materials are good for abrasion resistance, catostrophic burst prevention, and heat resistance. Fire hoses must meet or exceed NFPA 1961 – Standard on Fire Hose.

Fire Hose Vs Fire Extinguisher Cost

Fire hoses can be very expensive. They range in price from $100 to well over $1000 each. This depends on their overall size and materials used. This is why most people will never own a fire hose.

Fire extinguishers, on the other hand will cost between $30-$100+ USD each.

In Closing

There are several options for putting out fires, including buckets of water, sand, dirt, or using a garden hose. But compared to fire extinguishers and fire hoses, these options may not be as effective. Regardless, when dealing with fire, alway keep safety in mind and stay at a far enough distance to prevent being burned.

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