Proper Fire Extinguisher Use

Fire extinguishers are useful for putting out small fires. They aren't perfect, so the decision to use a fire extinguisher must be made and acted on quickly. To be used properly, fire extinguishers must be readily available and users must be familiar with their operation.

Close up of a fire extinguisher

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Choosing a Fire Extinguisher

Choosing a fire extinguisher is based on the types of fires the extinguisher will be expected to put out. Fire extinguishers are rated for certain types of fires. The rating for a fire extinguisher helps determine where in the home, office, or car it will be best utilized. Fire extinguishers ratings are:

  • Class A - Ordinary combustible solids like paper, wood, and plastic
  • Class B - Flammable or combustible liquid fires such as gasoline or kerosene
  • Class C - Energized electrical components

Specialized fire extinguishers are used in certain types of fires, class D extinguishers for combustible metals, and class K extinguishers designed for use in commercial kitchens.

Extinguishing Agents

There are several substances that can be used in fire extinguishers, but the most common are water, dry chemical, carbon dioxide, or halon. Water is not safe to use on electrical components, except in special class K devices. Dry chemical extinguishers leave a residue that is detrimental to delicate electrical components like computers. Carbon dioxide and halon extinguishers leave no residues behind. Most of the time, dry chemical is the best type of extinguisher for home use.

Proper Techniques

Regardless which class or type of fire extinguisher is used, the basic techniques are the same.

First, choose your fires wisely:

  • Only fight a fire that is small and contained
  • Do not fight a fire between you and the exit
  • Make sure the building is being evacuated
  • Make sure someone is calling 911

Once you have decided to fight the fire, follow these steps. Remember PASS:

  1. Pull the pin on the extinguisher
  2. Aim at the BASE of the fire (the item that's burning, not the flames) while standing back several feet from the fire
  3. Squeeze the trigger to discharge the fire extinguisher
  4. Sweep side-to-side as you discharge the fire extinguisher

Suggested Fire Extinguishers

This is by far not an exhaustive list. Choose the extinguisher based on the expected types of fires where it will be used.

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  1. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Fire Extinguisher Use.