How to Use a Fire Extinguisher
There is a high chance of your encountering an out-of-control fire at least once in your life, so knowing how to use a fire extinguisher is an important skill to be able to resort to. This article explains the process of using a fire extinguisher in an emergency.
1. Call for help before attempting to extinguish a serious fire. The fire may take hold much faster than you’re capable of dealing with it, and if help is on the way, it removes one less concern for you.
- Call, or have someone else call, 911 in North America, 999 in the United Kingdom, 112 in the European Union and many other countries (or the appropriate emergency number for your country) as soon as possible. Ask for the fire service to come immediately, giving your address and a brief description of the type of fire.
- Check that all other people are out of the house and have them remove pets as well. Check that they’re all assembled at a safe meeting point. Do not allow children to attempt to use a fire extinguisher or control a fire in any respect whatsoever.
- Realize that reacting to a fire requires a sound process of decision-making that children and some adults may not be capable of coping with their panic. Prior training on correct use can alleviate some of the concern here.
2. Check for your own safety before starting to extinguish a fire. There are some key things to check for before you start fighting a fire using a fire extinguisher:
- Are you physically capable of extinguishing a fire? Some people have physical limitations that might diminish or eliminate their ability to properly use a fire extinguisher. People with disabilities, older adults, or children may find that an extinguisher is too heavy to handle or it may be too difficult for them to exert the necessary pressure to operate the extinguisher.
- Look for your exit points. Ensure that there is a clear exit for immediate escape should this become necessary. At all times, keep your mind focused on the availability of a safe retreat. If this is threatened at all, leave at once. The US National Fire Prevention Association recommends that you install fire extinguishers close to an exit point, to enable you to keep your back to the exit when you use the extinguisher; this ensures that you can make an easy escape if the fire cannot be controlled.
- Do not attempt to put out a fire where it is emitting toxic smoke; if you suspect or simply don’t know if the smoke is toxic, leave it to the professionals.
- Check for structural safety of the building, in case burning walls, floors, or rafters pose a risk to your safety.
- If you have more than one fire extinguisher, consider asking another mature and responsible person to use it in tandem with you.
- Remember that your life is more important than property, so don’t place yourself or others at risk.
- Make a quick commonsense assessment about the utility and safety of using a fire extinguisher for the fire you’re experiencing. Obviously, a fire extinguisher is overkill for a candle but it’s useless when the whole house is on fire. A fire in a wastepaper basket, however, is another suitable candidate for fire extinguisher use.
- Use your instincts. If your instincts tell you the fire’s too dangerous to tackle, trust them.
- Class A: This is suitable for cloth, wood, rubber, paper, various plastics, and regular combustible fires. It is usually filled with 2 1/2 gallons (9.46 litres) of pressurized water.
- Class B: This is suitable for grease, gasoline or oil-based fires is usually filled with a dry chemical. Extinguishers smaller than 6lbs (2.72kg) are not recommended.
- Class C: This is suitable for electrical fires caused by appliances, tools, and other plugged in gear. It can contain either halon or CO2. Halon 1211 and 1301 is very expensive and depletes the ozone layer, but it is being replaced by non-depleting agents such as FM200. Note that halon is now illegal in numerous jurisdictions.
- Class D: This is used for water-reactive metals such as burning magnesium and will be located in factories using such metals. It comes in the form of a powder that must cover the material to extinguish it.
- Class K: This contains a special purpose wet chemical agent for use in kitchen fires and deep fryers to stop fires started by vegetable oils, animal fats, or other fats started in cooking appliances.
- Note that many fire extinguishers will work on a combination of fire classes. You’ll need to decide quickly on what type of fire you have and ensure that your fire extinguisher is compatible with the fire you are attempting to extinguish. An all-purpose ABC dry chemical (10lb/4.5kg) extinguisher is a safe bet for most fires, especially when you’re not sure of the fire’s origins.
- Pull the safety pin from the handle. The pin is located at the top of the fire extinguisher. Once removed, it releases the locking mechanism, allowing you to discharge the extinguisher.
- Aim the extinguisher nozzle or hose at the base of the fire. As explained, this removes the source or fuel of the fire. Keep yourself low.
- Squeeze the handle or lever slowly to discharge the agent. Letting go of the handle will stop the discharge, so keep it held down.
- Sweep side to side approximately 6in or 15 centimeter (5.9 in) over the fire until expended. The sweeping motion helps to extinguish the fire. Stand several feet or metres back from the fire: fire extinguishers are manufactured for use from a distance.
- The fire may flare up somewhat as extinguishing begins due to the flames being pushed away from the burning material (the real target) by the agent and gust of propellant. Do not be alarmed so long as it dies back promptly.
- If the fire doesn’t respond well after you’ve used up the fire extinguisher, remove yourself to safety quickly.
- If the room fills with smoke, make a hasty exit.
- Fire extinguishers should be wall mounted in an accessible place. Keep out of the reach of children who are not responsible enough to leave well alone.
- It’s a good idea to always keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen away from sources of heat such as the stove or cooking surfaces.
- Other good places to keep a fire extinguisher include: your car, your garage (especially if you use welding equipment or flammable products), your caravan or RV, and your boat. In each case, mount it somewhere accessible and protected from outdoor elements.
- Ensure that everyone in the house knows where the fire extinguisher is located and how to use it (provided they are old enough and responsible enough to do so).
|Accidents happen. Be prepared to fight your own fire by learning how to use a fire extinguisher.|
- Remove fuel, oxygen or heat to eliminate the fire. If one of those 3 elements are missing. the chemical reaction to create fire cannot occur.
- Shake dry chemical extinguishers once a month to prevent the powder from settling or packing. Check the manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Always have a household plan of escape in the event of fire, as well as working smoke alarms in place. A carbon monoxide detector can be useful also.
- Many local fire departments will happily demonstrate to you how to use a fire extinguisher. Call your local one to find out more. You will need to set up a time to do this. Many towns have monthly demonstrations.
- Pressure test the extinguisher (a process called hydrostatic testing) after a number of years to ensure that the cylinder is safe to use. Find out from the owner’s manual, the label, or the manufacturer when an extinguisher may need this type of testing.
- Immediately replace the extinguisher if it needs recharging or is damaged in any way.
- The US Fire Administration does not recommend the use of fire extinguishers by untrained persons. While this is only a recommendation and may be unrealistic sometimes, it is often easy enough to get training from your local fire department, so make the most of this opportunity to become “trained”.
- Fire extinguishers need to be regularly checked to ensure that:
- The extinguisher is not blocked by furniture, doorways, or anything that might limit access in an emergency.
- The pressure is at the recommended level. Some extinguishers have gauges that indicate when the pressure is too high or too low.
- All parts are operable and not damaged or restricted in any way. Make sure hoses and nozzles are free of insects or debris. There should not be any signs of damage or abuse, such as dents or rust, on the extinguisher.
- The outside of the extinguisher is clean. Remove any oil or grease that might accumulate on the exterior.
- Be aware that non-water based fire-extinguishers are designed to smother fire. Keep away from respiratory organs!
- If using a CO2 extinguisher, do not hold the horn (where the CO2 comes out), as it gets very cold.
- Don’t use fire extinguishers if there isn’t a fire, if you’re not training and you’re not being chased with a gun.
- Make sure you have the proper class of fire extinguisher for the fuel. For example, it is dangerous to use a water fire extinguisher on an electrical fire or a flammable liquid fire.
- It is a criminal offence to misuse a fire extinguisher.
- Fire extinguishers use up their charge very quickly. Exercise control with your spray and try to evenly extinguish the flames.
- Be aware that the powder from dry chemical extinguishers will damage some electronics. If you are purchasing extinguishers for someplace with a lot of electronics, try to avoid the the ‘dry chemical’ variety. Instead, use a CO2 or halon extinguisher. Don’t use a wet type, it could cause electrocution and a short circuit.
Things You’ll Need
- Fire extinguisher
- Exits for safety
- Fire blanket – Always remember, stop, drop and roll to put out fires on your body (for added flame smothering assistance