I have not written about fire extinguishers in quite a while. It is my hope that you will never need to use one, but that does not excuse you from knowing how to use one, if necessary. Using a fire extinguisher needs to be as easy as possible. You should not have to think about how to properly use the extinguisher when the time comes; it should just be second nature.
Choosing the right extinguisher is one piece of the proper-use puzzle. The proper extinguisher is determined, based upon the class that it is designed for. There are four primary classes of extinguishers.
Class A – Common combustibles such as paper, cardboard or wood. Class A extinguishers are filled with water or a water/foam mix.
Class B – Flammable or combustible liquids. Class B extinguishers are filled with a powdered-mix,
Class C – Electrical fires. Class C extinguishers are normally filled with carbon dioxide, which will not conduct electricity.
Class D – Combustible metals, such as magnesium. Class D extinguishers are usually a powdered mix.
There are multi-class extinguishers, such as ABC- or BC-rated extinguishers. If you can remember what the four classes are for, then it will help you to purchase the correct extinguisher.
Once you have chosen the best extinguisher for your needs, then it is important to know the basics of using that extinguisher.
The acronym P.A.S.S.:
P- Pull the pin
A-Aim the nozzle
S-Squeeze the handle
S-Sweep the nozzle at the base of the fire
Do not overthink this. If you must read the instructions on the label to use an extinguisher, then the fire is getting larger every second that you delay its application. Another thing to keep in mind is that fire extinguishers are designed for small fires. If you decide to attempt to fight a fire, you must ensure that everyone is evacuating and that someone is calling 911. You must determine if fighting this fire will cause you to be overcome by the smoke or burned by the fire.
The size of the extinguisher will determine how much fire can be extinguished by an extinguisher. It might seem that the bigger an extinguisher, the more fire that can be extinguished by it. The honest answer is the difference between a novice or untrained user and an expert user is the determining factor in how much an extinguisher can extinguish. The common-sense piece says that any size extinguisher can only extinguish so much fire.
The last piece of this puzzle is where to place your extinguisher. The harder it is to get to the extinguisher, the less likely it will be that you will use it. The extinguisher needs to be readily accessible. If the fire prevents access to the extinguisher, it goes without saying that it will not be used.
The easier you make this, the better the chance that you will be able to buy your family enough time to get out safely. A sprinkler system either extinguishes a fire or keeps it in check; fire extinguishers need to be looked at the same way.
Choosing the right extinguisher for the type of fire, using P.A.S.S., knowing your limitation and knowing the limitation of the extinguisher are all necessary to an extinguisher’s proper use.
Again, may you never have to use an extinguisher on a hostile fire, but hopefully this will help to prepare you.