Don’t wait until an emergency happens to learn how to use a fire extinguisher. The window of opportunity to knock down a small fire before it becomes a big one is short—a small house fire can grow twice as large in just one minute. The typical home fire extinguisher contains ingredients sufficient to last only about 10 seconds once you begin spraying the fire so time is critical. It’s vital that at least every adult in the household knows how to use a fire extinguisher properly. Here’s what to do in an emergency situation.
First Things First
Personal safety is always top priority. If you see flames or unexplained smoke, get everyone out of the house and call the fire department before you try to put it out yourself. Then you can make an informed decision about whether you should attempt to extinguish the fire. A good rule of thumb is if the flames are taller than you, or the smoke is too thick to breathe or see clearly, get out of the house. If the fire is small enough and it’s safe to use the fire extinguisher, always keep a door open or an unobstructed escape route so you can evacuate quickly.
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Types of Extinguishers
The first step to learning how to use a fire extinguisher is understanding the different types and their uses. Fires differ according to the source of the fire and the material burning. Fire extinguishers are classified according to an alphabetical identification system of A, B & C.
- Class A: Use on common dry combustibles such as wood, paper and fabrics.
- Class B: Use on flammable liquids and gases.
- Class C: Use for electrical fires (water or other liquids aren’t safe).
All-purpose extinguishers rated A-B-C are also available and suitable for most common household fires.
How to Use a Fire Extinguisher
The widely accepted procedure has been distilled down to a helpful acronym – PASS. While the actual methods may vary according to the type and size of the fire, the general PASS techniques apply to most fires.
- Pull the pin. The pin is a removable locking mechanism located at the top of the extinguisher to prevent accidental discharge. The type of pin can vary on extinguishers so check the instructions on the extinguisher to determine the proper removal method.
- Aim the extinguisher. Familiarize yourself with the instructions on the extinguisher to determine the safe distance to maintain each type of fire. The heat source feeding a fire is located down low at the base of the flames. That’s where you should direct the spray from the extinguisher.
- Squeeze the trigger slowly. Your extinguisher may have a handle, a finger-operated trigger or a button to disperse the extinguishing agent. Be familiar with the type of trigger on the extinguisher and squeeze or push it slowly to disperse an even, consistent flow.
- Sweep back and forth. Sweep the spray from side to side along the base of the flames. Avoid aiming the extinguisher at one spot. Depending on the type of the fire, you may need to step closer as the flames begin to subside but always maintain a back-and-forth sweeping motion along the base of the flames.
Once the fire appears to be out, back away slowly and watch for recurring flames. If hot spots re-ignite, follow the above procedure as long as the extinguisher still contains extinguishing agent. Always replace or professionally service the fire extinguisher after it’s been discharged.