Fire extinguishers are like insurance: You have it at your disposal, but expect never to use it. But if it came down to it, would you be able to operate it? There’s no more opportune moment than the present to familiarize yourself with these invaluable emergency devices, ensuring you’re well-prepared before encountering a stressful situation with flames.Understanding how to operate fire extinguisher can mean the difference between containment and a full-scale disaster at your property.
The key to using a fire extinguisher is to get clued up about the “PASS” strategy. Pull the pin, Aim the hose at the base of the fire, Squeeze the lever to discharge the extinguishing agent, and Sweep the hose. We will touch on that later in this guide; first, let’s begin by exploring the basics of a fire extinguisher.
What Is Fire Extinguisher?
A fire extinguisher is a portable active fire protection device that discharges a jet of water, foam, gas, or other material to extinguish or control small fires during emergencies.
It typically features a pressurized container filled with a fire extinguishing agent, a nozzle or hose to direct the extinguisher’s contents, and a handle to discharge the agents.
Fire extinguishers are not meant for use on an out-of-control fire, like one that has reached the ceiling, endangers the user, or otherwise demands a fire brigade’s equipment, resources, or expertise. These life-saving devices are categorized depending on the type of fires they are intended to fight.
Types of Fire Extinguishers
Fire requires oxygen, fuel, and heat to sustain itself. Take out one of the three, and the fire triangle subsides. Fires must be fought differently because of different fuel sources, so ensure your fire extinguisher comes with the right agent for the particular fire, be it wet chemical, dry chemical, or water. Using an inappropriate extinguisher to put out a fire can worsen a dangerous situation. Here are the different types of fire extinguishers:
- Water (Class A): These fire extinguishers are intended to extinguish fires involving ordinary combustibles like wood, rubber, paper, cloth, and most plastics.
- Foam (Class A and B): Foam extinguishers are effective against fires triggered by flammable liquids like kerosene and gasoline and some common combustibles associated with Class A fires. The foam creates a film over the fuel’s surface, deterring the release of flammable vapors.
- Dry Powder (Class A, B, C): These extinguishers are best for Class A, B, and C fires. Dry powder fire extinguishers employ a fine powder to interrupt the chemical reaction of the fire and smother it.
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) (Class B and C): CO2 fire extinguishers can eliminate both Class B and C fires. They displace one of the three elements of a fire triangle (oxygen), choking the fire without leaving any residue.
- Wet Chemical (Class K): These are mainly designed for kitchen fires. They use a potassium-based agent to extinguish fires involving cooking oils and fats.
- Class D (Metal Fires): Fire extinguishers with a D rating are effective against fires involving combustible metals like titanium, sodium, and magnesium.
Note: All extinguishers are designed to combat fires in the incipient stage, a fire department slang for “just getting started.” If the fire is tall enough, leave the immediate area and contact the relevant authorities.
Pros of a Fire Extinguisher
Fire extinguishers are an essential component of the home fire safety plan. They can save lives and property by depriving the fire of oxygen or other elements responsible for sustaining it. However, these units also have downsides, which we will explore in a few, but let’s start with the pros.
- Quick Response: Fire extinguishers are readily accessible, which is crucial for preventing the escalation of a fire. They help control and extinguish the fire, offering a first line of defense before the fire brigade arrives.
- Versatility: The availability of various fire extinguishers tailored to specific classes of fire enhances the versatility of these fire safety devices. For instance, a foam-based extinguisher can combat common combustibles and flammable liquid fires, offering a comprehensive solution to fire hazards.
- User-Friendly: Fire extinguishers are user-friendly devices, allowing those without extensive training to operate them relatively easily. This ease of operation ensures people can respond efficiently during a fire outbreak.
- Portable: Fire extinguishers are compact and easily transportable to the location of a fire. This portability allows for a targeted response and reduces the time it takes for firefighting efforts to commence.
- Reduced Damage: The prompt use of fire extinguishers reduces damage to property and possessions. These devices suppress the fire before it spreads and cause more extensive destruction.
Cons of Fire Extinguishers
- Limited Size and Capacity: Fire extinguishers have size and capacity limitations, making them only best for fires that are just getting started. Larger fires demand extensive firefighting equipment and resources.
- Limited Discharge Time: Fire extinguishers have a short discharge time, so you should act quickly and decisively to leverage the effectiveness of the extinguishing agent before the device runs out.
- Specificity: Fire extinguishers serve a similar purpose, but not all are designed to put out the same class of fires. Each unit is designed to smother specific categories of fires. Using the wrong extinguisher on a fire can worsen the situation.
How to Use a Fire Extinguisher
As mentioned above, fire extinguishers operate essentially the same way, but each is designed to extinguish a particular class of fire. In case a small fire confronts you, use the procedure below to extinguish the flames before things get out of hand:
- Step 1: Pull the Pin:
All fire extinguishers have a pin inserted into the handle to prevent the extinguishing agent from being discharged mistakenly. Grab the ring and pull the pin, being careful not to squeeze the lever, or you’ll tamper with the canister’s seal, and decompression will start.
With the extinguisher ready to discharge, hold the unit so the nozzle faces away from you.
- Step 2: Aim the Nozzle or Hose at the Base of the Fire:
Hold the carrying handle with your dominant hand and grab the hose or nozzle with the other. Point the hose at the base of the fire because it is the fuel source. Aiming the hose directly to the flames will yield little progress.
Stand at least 6 feet from the fire, depending on your extinguisher model. If you have a CO2 fire extinguisher, keep your hands away from the plastic discharge horn because it gets bitterly cold.
- Step 3: Squeeze the Lever:
Squeeze the levers together to spray the extinguishing agent while pointing the hose at the base of the fire. Apply slow and uniform pressure when squeezing the levers. An average fire extinguisher runs for nearly 15 seconds, so you must be precise and fast.
- Step 4: Sweep the Hose from Side to Side:
Slowly sweep the hose or nozzle from side to side over the base of the fire until the fire has been put out. Close in on the fire as it dies down, monitoring closely for re-ignition.
If you see any smoke, it means the fire is not entirely out yet. You can tell that the fire is out by holding out your hand to feel for heat or touch scorched surfaces to see if the area is cool to the touch.
- Step 5: Repeat If the Flames Flare Up:
Monitor the fire closely to ensure the flames don’t flare up again. If they do, back away and aim the nozzle again, squeeze the lever, and sweep the hose or nozzle across the base of the fire to smother it. Generally, you should never turn your back on a fire.
- Step 6: Leave the Area If You Cannot Put Out the Fire:
An average extinguisher has a sufficient agent inside to run for nearly 15 seconds. Leave immediately if the fire isn’t entirely out when the extinguisher runs out. Contact the fire brigade right away or other relevant authorities.
- Step 7: Replace or Recharge Your Extinguisher:
Some extinguishers are disposable, and they should be disposed of once they are fully discharged. Let the discharged unit rest for a few days to completely depressurize before discarding it. Alternatively, you can contact your local fire department for info on recycling the unit.
Others are rechargeable. Contact the manufacturer to see whether your unit can be recharged.
Tip: Regularly inspect your fire extinguisher to ensure the pin is in place and the pressure gauge is in the suitable range. If not, reach out to your local fire department for guidelines.
Common Fire Extinguisher Mistakes at Home
Few things are more startling than being confronted with a fire. What could worsen it? Not having a functional fire extinguisher or being unfamiliar with using it could make the situation more stressful. Here are some common fire extinguisher mistakes people make at home:
- Using the Incorrect Type of Extinguisher
Using the wrong fire extinguisher is a dangerous mistake when combating a fire. Fire extinguishers are intended to extinguish specific classes of fires, so using inappropriate units can worsen the situation.
- Ignoring Regular Maintenance and Inspections
Fire extinguishers need routine inspections and maintenance to work as expected during a fire outbreak. Overlooking these aspects is dangerous because a fire may start, and since you lack a functional unit, significant losses and damages may occur.
Check the extinguisher for visible signs of damage, like leaks, rust, or dents. Confirm that the pressure gauge is in the green zone, implying that the unit is fully charged.
If not, recharge or replace the extinguisher. Another consideration during inspections is to ensure the tamper seal is in place and that the pin and nozzle are unobscured.
Most importantly, fire extinguishers need a certified technician to perform the maintenance services annually, per local guidelines. During the maintenance service, the technician will inspect and replace expired parts, recharge the unit if necessary, and ensure the device works accordingly.
Ignoring regular maintenance and inspections may lead to defective extinguishers, endangering lives and property during an emergency. The unit may fail to discharge, rendering it ineffective when needed.
- Inadequate Operation Knowledge
Being unfamiliar with operating a fire extinguisher is a costly mistake people make regarding fire safety. Most individuals assume they know how to use extinguishers. Still, they may be strange to the proper technique, which can cause ineffective fire suppression.
Using a fire extinguisher is relatively easy, especially if you master the “PASS” strategy. Pull the pin on top of the extinguisher to break the tamper seal.
Aim the hose or nozzle at the base of the fire, where the fuel source is located. Squeeze the lever to discharge the extinguisher’s contents, then sweep the nozzle from side to side, covering the whole fuel source.
- Not Checking the Pressure Gauge
The pressure gauge is an essential component of a fire extinguisher, indicating if it’s properly charged. However, most people do not check the pressure gauge, which can result in using an undercharged unit. An undercharged extinguisher won’t release sufficient extinguishing agents to suffocate a fire.
The pressure gauge is at the top of the fire extinguisher and features a needle that must be in the green or full zone, indicating that the device is adequately charged.
- Waiting Too Long to Use the Fire Extinguisher
Waiting too long to use a fire extinguisher is an expensive mistake. It would help to use the extinguisher to suppress the fire immediately before the flames get out of control. Waiting too long before using the extinguisher gives the fire ample time to grow and spread, rendering the device ineffective.
If the fire is too large, evacuate and contact the fire department. It should also be noted that a fire extinguisher may not entirely put out a fire.
So watch the fire closely, even after using the extinguisher, to see if it will flare up again. If this happens, and you have depleted your extinguisher, try alternatives like a fire blanket before the fire brigade arrives.
- Standing too Close to the Fire
Fire extinguishers have a specific range of spraying. Maintaining a safe distance from the fire is vital when using a fire extinguisher to prevent heat, toxic fumes, and smoke exposure. Most devices have an average range of 6 feet, which is enough to protect you from the heat and smoke emitted by the fire.
- Not Having a Fire Extinguisher
Many households overlook the essence of owning a fire extinguisher, a costly mistake that should be avoided. Please have at least one extinguisher on your premises and ensure everyone knows how to use it.
- Removing the Nameplate
The nameplate offers crucial information about the fire extinguisher, including instructions on operation, the type of fire it can put out, the amount of extinguishing agent it has, and the last date of its inspection and maintenance.
Removing the nameplate makes it challenging to know the type of extinguisher and the class of fire it can extinguish. As mentioned in this guide, using the incorrect extinguisher can worsen the fire.
Also, your unit may be deemed non-compliant with local regulations if it lacks the nameplate, resulting in fines or other legal repercussions.
- Incorrect Placement
Most people install fire extinguishers in an inaccessible spot, which may restrict access in an emergency. Fire extinguishers should be mounted in a visible location where one can quickly access them to extinguish a fire before it grows large.
Another common mistake is storing the extinguisher in inappropriate conditions. If fire extinguishers are kept in areas exposed to high temperatures or direct sunlight, their performance can be compromised. As the manufacturer’s guidelines specify, these units should be stored in a cool, dry place.
- Partial Discharge and Stopping Too Soon
A fire extinguisher should be fully discharged. Partial discharge or stopping too soon can reignite the fire.
- Neglecting Evacuation Procedures
Sometimes, individuals concentrate solely on using the extinguisher and ignore evacuation procedures. Safety must always come first, so you should evacuate the building if the fire is as tall as you or beyond your control.
- Using an Expired Fire Extinguisher
Even if an extinguisher appears visually intact, using an expired one won’t put out a fire. The extinguisher’s contents may degrade over time, rendering the unit less potent or ineffective. This underscores the essence of regular inspections and maintenance.
What Are the Golden Rules of Fire Extinguishers?
The golden rule of fire extinguishers defines key principles for their effective and risk-free use. They are as follows:
- Know Your Extinguisher
Familiarize yourself with the type of fire extinguisher you have and its intended use. Each extinguisher is engineered to extinguish specific classes of fires, like Class A, B, C, or a combination thereof. Learn the instructions and the classes of fire the unit is suitable for.
- Assess the Situation
Before using your fire extinguisher, evaluate the size and nature of the fire. If the fire is as tall as you, spreading quickly, or threatening your safety, leave immediately and contact the fire brigade. Fire extinguishers are only suitable for smothering small fires in their early stages.
- Use the Correct Type
Fire extinguishers have numerous dousing agents for tackling specific classes of fires. Before attempting to put out a fire, ensure you know the fire fuel, and only continue if you have the appropriate extinguisher. Class A extinguishers are effective against regular combustible fires, including wood, paper, and most plastics.
Class B extinguishers are best for gasoline, grease, and oil fires. The extinguishing agent in Class B extinguishers is a dry chemical or CO2. Class C is ideal for energized electrical fires and uses dry chemicals or CO2 as the extinguishing agent.
Class D is best for combustible metals, while Class K excels in combating kitchen fires. You’ll also come across all-purpose extinguishers rated Class ABC, which can smother Class A, B, and C fires. These extinguishers use dry chemicals as the extinguishing agent.
- Remember PASS
PASS is an acronym for the steps in using an extinguisher. Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire, squeeze the lever to discharge the extinguishing agent, and Sweep the hose from side to side to put out the fire.
- Maintain a Safe Distance
Stand at least 6 feet from the fire when using an extinguisher to guarantee your safety while enabling the extinguishing agent to reach the fire effectively.
- Have an Escape Route
You should always have a clear escape route before using a fire extinguisher. You can retreat safely if the fire gets out of hand or the extinguishing agent is depleted.
- Use in the Incipient stage.
Fire extinguishers work well in the early stages of a fire. For this reason, you must act quickly and decisively to keep the fire from spreading to other areas. Waiting too long can lead to the fire becoming unmanageable.
- Seek Help
Always seek help from emergency services when the fire is uncontrollable or even after using a fire extinguisher. The fire brigade will assess the situation to ensure complete extinguishment.
- Regular Maintenance
Be sure to perform regular maintenance and inspection on your firefighting apparatus. Inspect the pressure gauge, check the pin is intact, and ensure no visible damage signs.
Adhering to these rules improves a fire extinguisher’s effectiveness and leads to a safer response during a fire outbreak.
How to Operate Fire Extinguisher
A fire extinguisher lets you stay calm when a fire occurs on your property. However, knowing how to operate a fire extinguisher is more important than owning one. Master the PASS method: Pull the pin, Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire, Squeeze the lever to release the extinguishing agent, and Sweep the hose from side to side to smother the fire.
It’s worth noting that fire extinguishers are only best for fighting a fire if it’s in its very early stages. Attempting to put out a fire that’s beyond the capabilities of a fire extinguisher can result in injury or death.