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Water is the oldest known method of extinguishing fire, and is still as effective as it ever was! Its use is limited to most burning solids, including wood, paper, textiles and other carbonaceous materials.
Water fire extinguishers tackle the fire by cooling the burning materials below the level of heat required of spontaneous combustion. This fact has an added benefit in that it helps to prevent flashbacks – this is when although the fire seems to be extinguished, the residual heat is sufficient to re-ignite the fire.
One of the key issues when using water as a fire fighting medium is that it can take some time to absorb into the material, the water just sitting on the surface of the fuel as opposed to soaking in – therefore reducing it effectiveness.
The additive in the Water Additive fire extinguisher serves to reduce the surface tension of the water, which makes the water softer making it soak into the material much quicker. This increases the effectiveness of the water, cooling and damping down the burning substance at a much faster rate.
This has the effect of providing a much higher fire rating than a plain water extinguisher.