If you’re taking part in a motorsport event, choosing the right plumbed-in fire extinguisher for your race car involves more decisions than you may have realised, including whether to go for a gas or foam-based suppressant, which size to opt for, and which activation type to select.

Whether you choose mechanical or electrical activation is something that largely comes down to individual preference and requirements, as well as available space and, of course, budget and the type of motorsport event that you will be taking part in.

With the 2022 racing season in full swing at the time of writing, and recent FIA requirements now in force for all vehicle types, many teams and drivers are replacing their systems and wondering which type of activation would best suit them.

What is an activation system on a fire extinguisher?

A fire extinguisher activation system refers to the way the unit is activated when used to put out a fire. Essentially, there are four main types of fire extinguisher activation system, including:

  • Mechanical activation
  • Electrical activation
  • Remote-charge activation
  • Handheld activation

A handheld extinguisher activates via the squeeze handle. The use of handheld fire extinguishers is still recommended (and comp, and it’s a good idea to have one of these models on board. But the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) has made it compulsory for vehicles to have one of its approved plumbed-in fire extinguishers at all of its own and Motorsport UK  (MSUK) events. So, for the purposes of this article, we will be discussing and comparing the different activation types for plumbed-in systems.

Motorsport fire extinguisher activation types

As mentioned, apart from handheld models there are three different activation system types, each with different benefits and features, with your choice depending on the factors mentioned above. Here, we look at each one in a little more detail:

Mechanically activated motorsport fire extinguishers

A mechanically activated fire extinguisher features a T-handle pull cable. A single firm yank of the T-handle pull cable is enough to activate the extinguisher and discharge 100% of your system’s suppressant.

Mechanically activated FIA-approved fire suppression systems generally consist of an alloy cylinder filled with extinguishant and an appropriate pressure source, a mechanical valve fitted with a squeeze handle and locking mechanism, a flexible-discharge dip tube, a set of nozzles, fittings and pipework and a T handle pull cable. The T handle pull cable is used in conjunction with the squeeze handle to activate and lock the locking mechanism, resulting in 100% discharge with a single firm pull on the T handle.

All mechanically activated fire-suppression systems use a technology known as a stored pressure system, which has a pressure source stored within the same cylinder as the extinguishing agent. One downside is that it requires a larger volume cylinder compared to a remote-charge cylinder, clearly leading to an increase in weight too. On activation, the flexible discharge dip-tube system has been developed to discharge 100% of the extinguishant if the vehicle rolls.

This type of system has no electronics, so essentially it’s in ARM and poised to activate 24/7 without the need to ARM an electrical control unit. The lack of electronics also means you can fit this fire suppression system simply, without the need for specific electronic tools.

Types of suppressants mechanical systems use:

A mechanically activated FIA fire extinguisher can use gas or foam suppressant.

Benefits of a mechanically activated extinguisher

There are a number of advantages to these types of motorsport fire extinguishers, including:

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • No reliance on electrics, making these race car fire extinguishers easy to fit, with less chance of things going wrong
  • The lack of electricity means your system is ready to use 24/7
  • It also makes mechanically activated extinguishers ideal for historic or classic cars

The downsides of a mechanically activated fire extinguisher

There are also a couple of these to bear in mind for mechanically activated FIA fire extinguishers, including:

  • They take up more space compared to models activated by remote charge, since the cylinders are typically bigger
  • Usually heavier because, again, the cylinders are quite big in size

Electrically activated motorsport fire extinguishers

An electrically activated fire extinguisher will have a control box with activation buttons, and when you press these you will discharge 100% of the extinguishant. Although electrically activated, these motorsport fire extinguishers use the same technology as their mechanically activated counterparts. But, as the next step up from their mechanical counterparts, these systems are recommended by MSUK.

Electrically activated FIA-approved fire suppression systems are made up of an alloy cylinder filled with extinguishant and an appropriate pressure source stored within the same cylinder as the extinguishing agent., an electrical activation valve, a flexible discharge dip tube, a set of nozzles, fittings and pipework and a control box linked with activation buttons. The control box and push buttons, when used in conjunction with the electrical activation valve, discharge with a single push of any of the activation buttons.  On activation, the flexible discharge dip-tube system has been developed to discharge 100% of the extinguishant if the vehicle rolls.

Types of suppressants electrical systems use:

Electrically activated FIA-approved fire extinguishers can use gas or foam-based suppressants.

Benefits of an electrically activated extinguisher

The benefits of choosing one of these systems for your team include:

  • MSUK recommends these models for most competition cars
  • The FIA also approves them
  • They’re generally up to 1kg than mechanically activated extinguishers
  • Someone with some electrical installation tools and experience needs to fit the system; nonetheless they are relatively easy to install

The downsides of a electrically activated fire extinguisher

Again, there are a few of these, and they include:

  • A higher price tag than a mechanically operated alternative
  • The electrics do mean you need extra tools and knowledge to fit these systems
  • A larger-volume cylinder is needed compared with a remote-charge system

Motorsport fire extinguishers operated by remote charge

Remote-charge activated suppression systems use a different kind of technology to the systems discussed above. However, in common with electrical models, they feature an electrical control box linked with activation buttons.

These extinguishers are considered the gold standard of motorsport fire extinguishers and offer the highest efficacy for fighting fires. They’re ideal for single-seater, circuit or rallying vehicles.

This type of system comprises an alloy cylinder fitted with a bladder, a quantity of extinguishant, a discharge valve, a separate pressure source stored in what is known as a remote charge, a set of nozzles, fittings and pipework and a control box linked with activation buttons. The control box and push buttons when used in conjunction with the discharge valve shall discharge 100% with one push of any of the activation buttons.

The technology used has been developed to pressurise the system on activation, this internally squeezes the bladder and opens the discharge valve to discharge 100% of the extinguishant in any orientation a vehicle may end in, which all happens within 20ms. The advantage of this type of technology is that no space is required within the internal space of the cylinder, this results in a significant weight and size reduction compared with mechanical and electrical systems; equally, the technology is more efficient than any comparable system.

Types of suppressants these systems use

Extinguishers activated by remote charge use gas suppressants only.

Benefits of an extinguisher activated by remote charge

  • This is the lightest option on the market, with smaller cylinders than those used by the alternatives
  • FIA and MSUK-approved for use in any type of motorsport
  • The most efficient form of fire extinguisher for use in this sector
  • Ideal for the highest levels of racing and motorsport, including rallying
  • Takes up less space than electrically or mechanically operated versions, so these systems suit smaller vehicles

The downsides of a remote-charge fire extinguisher

  • Typically, these systems fall within the higher price bracket of FIA-approved fire extinguishers, although they do have numerous advantages
  • With these models, you are limited to gas extinguishers only

Speak to our team today about different activation types

If you’re looking for a new FIA-approved fire extinguisher and are wondering which activation type would best suit your needs, get in touch and speak to our team – we’ll be happy to offer advice.

At FEV, we also supply spare extinguisher parts if you already own one of our products, including both mechanical and electrical activation buttons and control boxes. We also have a range of motorsport accessories including FIA seat rail kits and tow straps.