Fire extinguishers are a fundamental part of fire safety. The well-being of you, your employees, your customers, and even your business lay in the “hands” of these fire mitigation tools. However, since fires are — luckily — not a regular occurrence for most businesses, it is common to own a fire extinguisher while not having much of a clue how to use it. The following guide will help to explain the proper use of a fire extinguisher so that you can stay safe even under the pressure of an emergency.
Choosing the Right Fire Extinguisher
Fire extinguishers fall into five classes that determine the type of fire they are best suited to extinguish. Class A fire extinguishers are used on fires that involve wood, paper, or cloth. Class B extinguishers are for fires fueled by liquids and gasses such as petroleum, oil or propane. Class C fire extinguishers are used for fires that are in contact with energized electrical sources or near them. Class D fires involve flammable metals such as magnesium, uranium, titanium, zirconium, and powdered aluminum. Finally, Class K extinguishers are designed for fires that involve cooking oils and greases, such as animal fats or vegetable oils.
The best time to get familiar with a fire extinguisher is NOT when an emergency occurs. Get familiar with the classifications of fire your extinguisher is capable of handling BEFORE you need it. Read the instruction label on the front of your extinguisher; it tells you all the important information about the unit. Another recommended action is to be familiar with the weight of the unit. An extinguisher might be classified as a 5-pound or 10-pound unit, but this weight classification means the units have 5 or 10 pounds of agent in them. The actual extinguishers will weigh more once you factor in the valve, pressure indicator (if applicable), discharge hose (if applicable), and the cylinder. They might be heavier than you anticipate.
Most extinguishers today are capable of fighting more than one class of fire. They will have pictographs on the front label of the extinguisher that indicates which classes they will extinguish. An extinguisher with a circle and slash going through the pictograph indicates that the extinguisher is not suited for that particular class of fire.
Extinguishers also have a rating for how large of a fire they can put out. For example, A-class fire extinguishers will have a rating from 1A to 40A, while B-class units are rated from 1B to 640B. Class C, D & K extinguishers do not have a size rating but will just have the letter applied if they are capable for those classifications of fire. A common rating example for a 5-pound ABC extinguisher would be 3A:40B:C.
Using Your Fire Extinguisher
Before you consider using your extinguisher, ensure that you have a clear emergency escape route. Should you not be able to put out the fire with your extinguisher, you will need a planned escape route to safety. It is best to store your extinguishers in paths of egress and have them readily accessible. Once you establish an escape route, stand about ten to twelve feet from the flames before you start discharging the extinguisher.
The P.A.S.S. Method
P.A.S.S. is an acronym that can help you remember how to use the extinguisher. Follow the P.A.S.S. Method:
- Pull the extinguisher’s pin
- Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
- Squeeze the handle to discharge the agent
- Sweep the nozzle back and forth
You will want to keep the nozzle aimed at the base of the flames the entire time you are using the fire extinguisher. Keep moving it back and forth until the fire is completely extinguished. Then, back away from the fire to a safe area. You should always call your local fire department for emergency assistance and activate your alarm system before using a fire extinguisher.
Things to Avoid
Make sure you are using the correct type of fire extinguisher for the class of fire, as some extinguishers can actually make fires worse or cause injury to yourself or others. Always check your fire extinguisher to ensure it is located in the proper location & has pressure in it. You can do this by looking at the pressure indicator. We recommend that you do not purchase extinguishers without a pressure indicator. If a fire occurs, you will want to have the highest confidence that your extinguisher will function at maximum performance. Make sure that everyone in your facility knows where fire extinguishers are located and how they operate. This training is always good to do in conjunction with Fire Drills.
With the help of the P.A.S.S. method and a handy technique for recognizing the class of fire and fire extinguishers necessary for any given situation, you will feel much more confident when faced with a fire. The confidence will translate to fast action and greatly improved fire safety measures, potentially saving lives and even your building.