Fire extinguishers are an essential component of any building’s fire safety plan. However, fire extinguishers are only effective if used correctly.
Training employees on how to act in case of a fire could save lives and reduce property damage before the fire gets out of hand. This training should not only include the proper operation of a fire extinguisher, but also what steps to take before and after the fire is put out.
Before Using a Fire Extinguisher
In the event of a fire, it can be tempting to reach for the fire extinguisher right away. However, there are a few important steps that need to occur before using the extinguisher. If someone spots a fire they should:
- Activate the building fire alarm system or call 911
- Announce the fire to others in the building
- Determine if the fire is spreading
- Determine if the fire is small and contained enough to use a fire extinguisher
If the fire is too big to manage with a fire extinguisher, it is best to evacuate immediately and wait for the fire department.
Even if the fire is small enough to extinguish with a portable fire extinguisher, an emergency exit must be available at all times should the extinguisher fail to subdue the flames. This will ensure the user can evacuate the scene safely without getting backed into a corner—keeping in mind that the smoke from a fire can be just as dangerous as the flames.
Identify the Fire
Different fires require different extinguishers. Fires are classified as:
- Class A: ordinary combustibles
- Class B: flammable liquids and gas
- Class C: electrical equipment
- Class D: combustible metals
- Class K: cooking oils and grease
Identifying which type of fire is occurring will help determine which fire extinguisher to use. Fire extinguishers should be labeled with clear pictures or class letter indicating what class the extinguisher is suitable for.
Always Remember P.A.S.S.
An easy way to remember how to use a fire extinguisher is to use the P.A.S.S method:
- Pull out the safety pin to activate the fire extinguisher.
- Aim the nozzle down low towards the base of the fire from a safe distance away.
- Squeeze the operating lever to discharge the extinguisher. This will look different depending on the type of extinguisher.
- Sweep the nozzle from side to side until the fire is extinguished. Carefully step towards the fire area as it goes out to avoid any potential reignition.
These four steps apply to all types of fire extinguishers and will help the user safely put out small fires until the fire department arrives.
Fire Extinguisher Best Practices
There are a few common misconceptions around fire extinguishers that could potentially place the user at risk. Remain cautious and when in doubt, evacuate.
Follow the Instructions
Instructions on fire extinguishers are there for a reason. Make sure all members of the team are aware of the correct use of each extinguisher, and keep the instructions clear and visible.
Know Which Type of Extinguisher to Use
Don’t use a fire extinguisher for a class of fire that isn’t on the label. This is especially important for Class A extinguishers that are meant for ordinary combustibles and should never be used on electrical or cooking grease fires.
Know Where the Exits Are
When using a fire extinguisher, keep the exits to your back in case the fire doesn’t go out. This will prevent users from getting trapped, and can save lives.
Make Sure the Extinguisher is Up to Date
Fire extinguishers can last a long time with proper care and maintenance, but they should still be periodically inspected and tested by a professional fire safety technician to ensure they’re in working order at all times.
Conduct Trainings and Fire Drills
Everyone who frequents the building should know where the fire extinguishers are and participate in regular fire training, including fire extinguisher training, so they can be prepared in the event of an emergency.
Complete Fire Safety Training
No fire training is complete without a proper understanding of fire extinguishers - from identifying which to use to successfully extinguishing a fire. Everyone should know where they are located and how to use them.
If there is any doubt about how to use a fire extinguisher during an emergency, the safest option is to evacuate the building and wait for the fire department.