A Guide to Understanding the Differences Between Various Types of Fire Suppression Systems

As the common phrase goes: We plan for the worst and hope for the best. Deciding on how to respond to a potential fire threat is critical for businesses of all types. We hope that the need for a response to a fire will never arise, but it’s crucial to plan appropriately.


Many of us are familiar with the extended, historical use of water and sprinklers to protect against fires. But the world of fire suppression systems has evolved dramatically over the past century. Resources are now available to us that were not even thought of a half-century ago. Scientific developments have provided considerably more dynamic and suitable means of responding to the ancient threat that fire poses.


In this article, we cover the differences between fire protection and fire suppression. And we explore the different primary types of fire suppression systems available.



What are the different types of fire suppression systems?

Industrial fire suppression systemIn many cases, a distinction exists between fire suppression systems and fire protection systems. The two terms—suppression and protection—overlap in many regards. Some fire safety providers, however, may not distinguish between the terms at all. For the sake of our exploration, fire suppression systems differ from fire protection systems by their use of an alternative to the water used in more traditional fire sprinkler systems.


For instance, fire sprinkler systems would be identified under the category of protection. These systems are used across the globe in commercial and residential locations. They rely on various types of water distribution to contain and eliminate the threat and spread of fires.


In contrast, a fire suppression system uses varying alternatives to water. These substitutes for water may include resources such as gas, chemicals, or foam. Suppression systems seek to assert action before a fire gains the chance to spread. And they can often provide benefits that can’t be found with more traditional sprinkler systems.


The primary types of fire suppression systems:

  • Inert gases
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
  • Clean Agent
  • Water mist


Exploring the various types of fire suppression systems

At its most basic, a fire suppression system is a means of identifying, controlling, and extinguishing a fire. These systems of suppression rely on agents other than water to respond to the threat of fire. Using these alternatives has proven to offer various benefits, such as protecting against damage to sensitive equipment and more effective fire prevention. Suppression systems aim to act before a fire can develop or spread through a building or space—often activating more quickly than traditional fire sprinklers.

Inert gas suppression systems

Inert gas suppression systems’ primary function is to remove enough oxygen in a space to eliminate the potential combustion of a fire. Most gas systems are preferred for uses in buildings where humans might be present. Unlike using CO2, inert gases remove enough oxygen to prevent fires but not so much to pose possible suffocation to occupants.

Beyond their general safety for humans, inert gases also offer the benefit of being safe for sensitive equipment such as computers, televisions, and phones. They are also classified as “clean agents” because they do not cause damage to the ozone layer or contribute to global warming. Examples of inert gases might include inergen, argonite, or nitrogen.


Carbon Dioxide (CO2) suppression systems

Suppression systems that utilize CO2 also rely on their ability to remove oxygen rather than extinguish heat. Unlike inert gases, however, CO2 extracts too much oxygen for occupants to avoid suffocation. As a result, this type of suppression system is not used for buildings or spaces where humans are present. Instead, they are commonly used for very confined applications or areas not accessible to personnel.

Generally, using CO2 suppression systems is also not recommended for use in areas with electrical equipment. Carbon dioxide is stored at frigid temperatures and can pose the risk of thermal shock to hardware or electronic components.


Clean agent suppression systems

There are numerous reasons for how these suppression systems came to be understood as using “clean agents.” For one, they are safe for humans. But they also do not pose a significant risk to the environment. They also have a meager impact on the atmosphere or global warming. Finally, clean agents evaporate and do not leave a residue after being discharged to suppress a fire.

Clean agents can be stored as a liquid or gas. Discharging a clean agent releases the storage chemical(s) as gas to suppress a fire. The gaseous discharge can serve the purpose of disrupting up to three different elements that can sustain a fire: a fuel source, oxygen, or heat. The clean agent also commonly acts very quickly—distributing highly concentrated levels in around 10 seconds. This quick and effective execution makes clean agents efficient at suppressing fire before it can cause significant damage.

Due to their safe and productive application, clean agents are primarily preferred for protecting both occupants and sensitive materials. They are often used to protect the fragile resources found in museums, archives, or libraries. And clean agents are commonly preferred for ensuring the safety of computer or server rooms.


Water mist suppression systems

kitchen fire suppression

This type of suppression system is the only exception to the rule mentioned earlier that distinguishes fire suppression systems from protection systems by the use of water. However, water mist suppression involves a distinctly different tactic than sprinkler systems. These misting systems use remarkably less water than fire sprinklers and do not cause collateral damage to equipment. Rather than cooling a fire’s heat, water mist suppression systems evaporate and produce starvation of oxygen.

Water mist suppression systems present the advantages of immediate activation, environmental and human safety, and minimal to no water damage. Because the fine mist evaporates quickly, these systems are primarily considered safe for sensitive equipment and supplies.



Before you go

At WFX Fire, Lock, & Security, we are committed to ensuring you have the most reliable and trustworthy resources for fire suppression systems. Our team can ensure that your installation is conducted with the utmost professionalism—while also providing maintenance to ensure your systems keep you safe in the long run.


You can schedule a consultation or call us today at 855-WFX-1978

What is a “K” type fire extinguisher

According to the US Fire Administration (USFA), there were 1,291,500 fire incidences in the country in 2019. These fires led to 3,704 deaths, 16,600 injuries, and losses amounting to 14.8 billion US dollars. Fires are typically classified according to the type of fuel that feeds them. One of the most dangerous and stubborn fires to combat is the Class K fire, common in commercial kitchens. These fires can only be fought effectively with a unique extinguishing agent found in a Class K type of fire extinguisher.


What is a Class K Fire Extinguisher?

Fire extinguishers are classified depending on the type of fire that they will extinguish. A class K fire extinguisher is used to control fires involving cooking media such as oils, fats, and grease commonly found in cooking places such as commercial restaurants.These fire extinguishers work through saponification to extinguish flames completely.


What is Saponification?

Saponification is a chemical reaction that occurs when alkaline mixtures come into contact with fat or cooking oil. Ideally, the alkaline mixtures combine with the fatty acid to create a soapy foam on the surface, which effectively separates and absorbs the fire’s heat elements (the fuel, heat, and oxygen). The fire extinguisher intended for fighting a Class K fire is labeled with the letter K so users can quickly identify it during emergencies.



What Types of Extinguishers are Rated as Class K Fire Extinguishers?


Only a Class K fire extinguisher will be effective for Class K fire and must be kept within reach in a commercial kitchen setting. The right type of Class K extinguisher should effectively separate the fuel from the oxygen and adequately absorb the heat elements and smother raging kitchen fire effectively.


Currently, the only effective extinguishers rated as Class K are the Wet Chemical Fire extinguishers that meet regulatory and industry standards. The extinguishers leverage wet mist with alkaline mixtures in the form of potassium citrate, potassium acetate, or potassium carbonate. The alkaline mixture interact with cooking media to effectively quench the fire and reduce the risk of re-ignition



How to Improve Workplace Safety with Class K Fire Extinguishers?

OSHA requires commercial properties and employers to choose and distribute fire extinguishers depending on the classes of expected workplace fires. The size and degree of the hazard should also be considered when selecting a fire extinguisher.


The following are some ways to improve workplace safety with a Class K fire extinguisher:


Unlike the other classes of fire extinguishers, there is no distance requirement for Class K extinguishers. According to the OSHA requirements, the extinguisher to be located at the point of anticipated cooking for ignition. However, some local requirements may be stricter, and employers should check and be familiar with their local marshal and insurance agent. In general, extinguishers in a commercial kitchen should be located as follows:

  • Extinguishers should be conspicuously located and immediately available in case of fire.
  • Ideal locations to place them include on hanger, cabinets, or wall recesses.
  • Height requirements will depend on the weight. If it weighs less than 40 pounds, its height should not be more than 5 feet above the ground. If its weight is more than 40 pounds, it should be placed no more than 3.5 feet above the ground.



For the Class K fire extinguisher to be effective during emergencies, employers should provide a suitable educational program to equip employees on the fire extinguisher’s principles and use. Ideally, OSHA recommends that the training be done during the initial hiring and once a year after that. Most types of extinguishers operate using the PASS technique:

  • P- break the tamper seal by pulling the pin on the extinguisher
  • A-Aim it low with the nozzle pointed at the bottom base of the fire
  • S-squeeze the handle firmly to release the extinguishing agent
  • S- sweep the nozzle from side to side while firmly pointing at the base of the fire until it is completely extinguished

Repeat the last three steps if the fire reignites.



Portable fire extinguishers should be visually inspected each month. The inspection seeks to determine the following.

  • If the extinguisher is appropriately located in its assigned place
  • If the fire extinguishers are conspicuous and not blocked or hidden
  • If the fire extinguishers are mounted following NFPA Standard No. 10 (Portable Fire Extinguishers.
  • Whether the nozzles are free of any blockage and pin and seals are in place if the fire extinguisher reveal signs of abuse or damage
  • Whether the pressure gauges show ideal pressure levels.

Maintenance and testing

It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure the extinguisher is maintained, inspected, and tested by a licensed expert. Maintenance should be done at least once a year or more, depending on the level e of risks. The employer should record the maintenance date and keep the records.

Why You Still Need a Fire Suppression System
Along with having a Class K fire extinguisher readily accessible, employers should have robust fire suppression systems installed within the kitchen premise. A fire suppression system is designed to detect fires at the beginning stages through heat or smoke. They are attached to an alarm system that goes off immediately the fire is detected. Most fire suppression systems automatically release extinguishing agents after detecting alerts.


different types of fire extinguishersCan I Use a Class K Fire Extinguisher to Fight a class A Fire?

If the class K fire spreads to Class A fire materials in the kitchen, control the flames using the Class K extinguisher. However, you should not use a class A or Class B and other classes of fire extinguishers to fight a kitchen fire started by cooking media such as oil, grease, or fat.



Do You Have a Suitable Fire Extinguisher?

Fires are more likely to occur in restaurants than other types of businesses. The suitable fire extinguisher should protect your kitchen and workplace. WFX provides exceptional fire security solutions for both commercial and residential properties. Our experts will do both initial installation and routine maintenance to ensure your fire extinguishers and fire suppression systems provide adequate protection.



··· Give us a call today (855) WFX-1978 to learn what extinguishers and protection will be best for you »