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Fighting Fires With Fire Extinguishers – Know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.

July 27, 2011

Fire extinguishers are required in just about all public buildings.  Yet very few people have ever used one.  There are some things to think about before using a fire extinguisher.  First of all you need to accomplish three things on any fire.  Secondly you need to answer three questions before you try using a fire extinguisher.  Thirdly, if you decide to use the extinguisher, there are four tips for use.


Any time you’re faced with a fire, you need to accomplish three things.  First of all, sound an alarm.  The other occupants of the building need to know that the structure is on fire.  You can yell to let people know or, in some cases you can pull a fire alarm pull station.  Once you’ve sounded an alarm and people are exiting, notify the fire department.  Remember, we typically don’t show up without an invitation.  Don’t assume that the fire alarm system automatically calls 911.  Some systems do, some systems don’t.  Either call 911 yourself or appoint someone else to call 911.  Thirdly, ensure you have an escape route.  If your escape route is threatened by the fire, just get out and let the fire department worry about it.


Once you’ve accomplished the above, and you have a good escape route, you can take the time to decide whether you should use an extinguisher to fight the fire or not.  You need to answer three questions:

  1. Can I handle a fire this big?  If the fire is smaller than a garbage can, you can probably deal with it.  Once it exceeds that size, you’re probably not going to impress the fire much with an extinguisher and you need to get out.
  2. Do I have the correct class of fire extinguisher?  Class A fires are the average debris you’d find in a garbage can: wood, paper and textiles.  Class B fires are flammable liquids:  gasoline, diesel, paint, cooking oil.  Class C fires involve electricity or electrical appliances.  Class D fires are rare and include metals usually in industrial settings.  Using the wrong fire extinguisher can, and often will, make the fire worse and you run the risk of getting hurt.  Ensure the fire extinguisher you’re using matches the type of fire you’re looking at.  If the two don’t match, just get out.
  3. If I try to extinguish this fire, will I still have a safe escape route?  Don’t jeopardize your ability to get out.  Remember, even if the building is damaged, if all of the people get out unharmed, we still regard that as a pretty good day.



If your answers to the questions above are ‘yes’, then you get to operate the fire extinguisher.  The industry uses the acronym PASS.

P – Pull the seal and pin from the extinguisher.  The pin is metal and keeps the extinguisher from discharging accidentally.  The plastic seal holds the pin in place.  Twist the metal pin and the plastic seal will break loose.  Pull the pin out of the extinguisher and it’s ready to go.

A – Aim at the base of the fire.  Most people focus on the flames, but the chemistry you want to attack is at the base of the flames.

S – Squeeze the trigger on the extinguisher.  Hold it down continuously.

S – Sweep the extinguishing agent from side to side across the base of the fire.  Work the edge nearest to you and then aim farther back.  Keep going until the fire is out.  A standard 2A:10B:C fire extinguisher (called a five-pounder back in the day) will shoot extinguishing agent about 5-12 feet and will last for about 8-10 seconds.  If you can’t get the fire out with one, get out of the building.  Two fire extinguishers probably won’t do any better.  Let the fire department deal with the big fires.


From → Preparedness

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