Used properly, a portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives.
Extinguishers Have Limits
- The operator must know how to use the extinguisher. There is no time to read directions during an emergency.
- The extinguisher must be within easy reach and in working order, fully charged.
- The extinguisher must be kept near the exit, so the user has an escape route that will not be blocked by fire.
- The extinguisher must match the type of fire you are fighting. Extinguishers that contain water are unsuitable for use on grease or electrical fires.
- The extinguisher must be large enough to put out the fire. Most portable extinguishers discharge completely in as few as eight seconds
Choosing Your Extinguisher
Fire extinguishers are tested by independent testing laboratories. They will be labeled for the type of fire they are intended to extinguish.
Class of Fires: There are three basic classes of fires. All fire extinguishers are labeled using standard symbols for the classes of fires they can put out. A red slash through any of the symbols tells you the extinguisher cannot be used on that class of fire. A missing symbol tells you only that the extinguisher has not been tested for a given class of fire.
Class A: Ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics.
Class B: Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, tar, oil-based paint, lacquer, and flammable gas.
Class C: Energized electrical equipment including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery, and appliances.
Many household fire extinguishers are “multipurpose” A-B-C models, labeled for use on all three classes of fire. If you are ever faced with a Class A fire and don’t have an extinguisher with an “A” symbol, don’t hesitate to use one with the “B-C” symbol.
WARNING: It is very dangerous to use water or an extinguisher labeled only for Class A fires on a grease or electrical fire. The “C” in a rating indicates that you can use the unit on electrical fires.
EXTINGUISHER SIZES: Portable extinguishers are also rated for the size of fire they can handle. Normally, an extinguisher that has a rating of 2-A:10-B:C on its label is recommended for each floor level. The larger the number, the larger the fire that the extinguisher can put out. Higher-rated models are often heavier. Make sure you can hold and operate the extinguisher before you buy.
Extinguishers should be installed in plain view, above the reach of small children, near an escape route and away from stoves and heating appliances. Ask you local fire department for advice on the best locations.
Extinguishers require routine care. Read your operator’s manual and ask your dealer how your extinguisher should be inspected and serviced. Rechargeable models must be serviced after every use. Disposable fire extinguishers can be used only once, and must be replaced after use. Following manufacturer’s instructions, check the pressure in your extinguishers once a month.
Remember the PASS-word
PULL the pin: This unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge the extinguisher. Some extinguishers may have other seals or tamper indicators.
AIM low: Point the extinguisher nozzle (or hose) at the base of the fire.
SQUEEZE the lever above the handle: This discharges the extinguishing agent. Releasing the lever will stop the discharge. (Some extinguishers have a button instead of a lever.)
SWEEP from side to side: Moving carefully toward the fire, keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until the flames appear to be out. Watch the fire area. If the fire re-ignites, repeat the process.