How to effectively use a fire extinguisher

How to effectively use a fire extinguisher

How to effectively use a fire extinguisher

Fire extinguishers can be invaluable tools to help fight smaller fires in the workplace or to protect evacuation routes in the event of a larger one. Anyone likely to have to use fire fighting equipment should train in its use and basic fire-fighting techniques. It is also essential that the right type of extinguisher is used for the fire. To help, we’ve put together this fire extinguisher guide, which presents the proper way to select and use a fire extinguisher, and also gives you some guidance about when you should use a fire extinguisher instead of simply getting to safety and when you should evacuate if the fire gets too big despite your efforts.

When to Use a Fire Extinguisher?

What’s the first thing you think of when you think of fire extinguisher steps of operation? Take a moment and give it some thought.

Was your first step something like “determine if I should use a fire extinguisher or get to safety instead?” If not, you overlooked a crucial decision point.

If you’re involved in a fire, there may be times when you should get to safety instead of trying to fight the fire. There are times when fighting the fire may increase the danger to yourself and others in the area.

Here is a list of things to consider before you try to fight a fire. Only stay and fight the fire if you can say “yes” to every item on the list.

  • Is the fire small enough and contained enough that you can put it out safely?
  • Is a fire extinguisher available and within easy reach?
  • Is the fire extinguisher of the proper type to put out the kind of fire you want to extinguisher? (Read below for more on types of fires and fire extinguishers.)
  • Is the extinguisher fully charged and large enough to put out the fire?
  • Have you been trained to use a fire extinguisher properly?
  • Can you be sure that you won’t be putting yourself or others at risk if you use the fire extinguisher to fight the fire?

When thinking about how to use a fire extinguisher, it’s easy to overlook the first issue, but it may be the most important of all. Don’t put yourself or others at risk by attempting to follow the fire extinguisher steps listed below if it’s not a fire you can put out safely.

How to Effectively Use a Fire Extinguisher

In the rest of this article, we’ll present additional fire extinguisher steps to follow based on the assumption that you’ve already determined it is safe and appropriate for you to fight the fire and that a fire alarm has been triggered.

Step 1: Know What Kind of Fire It Is (6 Classes of fire)

There are different types of fires (these are also called fire classifications). And it’s important to know what type of fire you’re trying to put out so that you can be sure to use the right type of fire extinguishers. Fire experts have named the different types of fires using a 5-letter naming system (Type A, Type B, Type C, Type D, Type E, and Type F). The type of fire depends on what the fire is burning.

Below is a chart of 6 classes of fire.

Classes of fire

Remember that knowing what’s burning, and therefore understanding the type of fire, is essential so you’ll use the right type of fire extinguisher.

Additional Tips for this Step of our Fire Extinguisher Guide

  1. We mentioned this in the earlier section, but when you’re looking at the fire to determine what type of fire it is, make sure it’s not too big to fight and make sure you’ve got a way to get away if things get worse.
  2. If you’re like almost every living person alive, you’ll forget the five fire types listed above sometime today or tomorrow (fire experts excepted, of course) if you CAN remember them, great. But if not, it’s a good idea to put a list of the fire types like the one above near fire extinguishers.

Step 2: Get the Right Type of Fire Extinguisher

Once you know the type of fire, check to see if you have the right kind of fire extinguisher to put out that fire.

For example, if you’ve got a Type A fire, you want a fire extinguisher that’s capable of putting out type A fires.

Additional Tips for this Step of our Fire Extinguisher Guide

We mentioned this earlier too, but when you’re checking to make sure you’ve got the right kind of fire extinguisher, make sure the extinguisher is fully charged and that it’s big enough for the fire you want to put out.

Step 3: The PASS Method for Using a Fire Extinguisher

Once you know the type of fire and have selected an appropriate fire extinguisher, you’ll want to use the extinguisher to put the fire out.

But not everyone knows how to use an extinguisher. Fortunately, there’s a simple, 4-step method you can follow to use a fire extinguisher properly. The fire extinguisher steps method is known as PASS, and each letter in the word PASS (P, A, S, and S) stands for the first word of each step. The PASS method works for many common fire extinguishers.

We’ve explained the four steps of the PASS method for using a fire extinguisher below.

PASS Step 1: PULL the pin

Many fire extinguishers have a pin near the handle at the top like the one shown in the image below. Begin by removing that pin. In some cases, instead of a pin there’s been a lock latch you’ll have to release or a puncture level you have to press.

PASS Step 2: AIM the nozzle, hose

Aim the nozzle, horn, or hose of the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire (this means the bottom, where the stuff that’s burning is located).
A common mistake is to aim into the flames. This won’t put out the fire.

PASS Step 3: SQUEEZE the handle

Next, squeeze the handle of the fire extinguisher. This will cause the fire extinguisher to begin working.

PASS Step 4: SWEEP from side to side at the base of the fire

Use a sweeping motion from side to side to cover the base of the fire.

Continue extinguishing the fire until the fire is completely out. After the fire appears to be out, watch the area in case the fire breaks out again, and repeat use of the extinguisher if necessary.

Step 4: When to Quite Fighting the Fire and Evacuate the Fire Scene

When you’re actively fighting the fire, you should remember there may be cases when you have to give up, quit fighting the fire, and evacuate the fire area for your safety.

Here are some reasons to quit fighting a fire and evacuate immediately:

  • The fire is spreading too quickly
  • The fire could block your only exit
  • The fire is too large
  • The fire is so hot you can’t get close enough to fight it effectively (10-15 feet)
  • You’ve had to get down on your knees and/or crawl because you can’t see well otherwise, because of high temperatures, or because of smoke.

Once you’ve left the fire area, make sure a fire alarm has been triggered (if it hasn’t already), and fire fighting professionals are on the way. 

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