Fire Extinguishers: When and How to Use Them
They’re in every home—underneath the sink, hanging on a wall or tucked away on a shelf. Bright red and intimidating, fire extinguishers have been standard safety equipment for many years, but if it came down to it, could you use one?
For many, the answer is “probably not.”
Because these helpful devices can save property and lives, knowing when and how to use a fire extinguisher should be essential for every person over the age of 13 who resides in the home. If every home had a well-maintained fire extinguisher and the family members knew how to use it, many fires could be taken care of in the early stages before they turned into a blazing inferno.
A Learning Process
The main reason so many people don’t have or use fire extinguishers is they never learned how to operate them. Once you’ve used one, they’re no longer intimidating, and you’d want one around the home just like any common tool. There are resources available to you, however, so ask for help. Fire departments will generally welcome the opportunity to show you proper fire extinguisher use, and if that’s not an option, you can call the service that provides your security monitoring and fire alarm testing.
Using a Fire Extinguisher (PASS)
In the event of a fire, stay calm, grab the fire extinguisher and remember PASS.
According to the National Fire Protection Association website, PASS is an acronym to help us remember the basic fire extinguisher usage steps:
•Pull the pin
•Aim the extinguisher
•Squeeze the lever slowly
•Sweep from side to side
Keep in mind that pulling the pin doesn’t actually do anything; it’s a safety mechanism that once pulled allows you to activate the extinguisher. Aiming prior to activation is important, and you want to be sure that you target the base of the fire rather than the flames. Next, you want to squeeze the trigger slowly in order to ensure an even release of the agent. If you release the trigger, the discharge will end. Once the agent starts releasing, sweep the extinguisher from one side of the fire to the other until the fire begins to fade.
When to Act and When to Call
A human-operated fire extinguisher is one of the most powerful fire prevention systems around, but it requires the user to stay calm, assess the situation, make a decision and act in an efficient manner. In the event of a fire, you must quickly determine if it’s small enough to be controlled by an extinguisher and whether or not you’re physically and emotionally capable of executing the necessary actions.
You should call the fire department in the event of any fire, even the ones you’re able to control. The fire department can assess the situation and ensure that everything’s OK. Ideally, a second person should make that call. If not, call the fire department before attempting to extinguish any kind of fire yourself. When assessing the fire, you should also determine if there’s any potential toxic quality, and if so, simply leave the residence.
Owning and Maintaining a Fire Extinguisher
Fire extinguishers are labeled A, B, C, D and K, and some have combination labels, such as A-B-C. The letters indicate the type of substances that can be extinguished with the fire extinguisher. For instance, A indicates ordinary combustibles, such as cloth. B indicates flammable liquids, including grease. C indicates use for electrical fires. D is used for flammable metals, such as those typically found in factories. K indicates the extinguisher can be used on fires that involve vegetable and animal oils and is generally used in commercial kitchens. An A-B-C fire extinguisher is the most common kind for home use.
All fire extinguishers have gauges on them that will let you know when it’s time for replacement. It’s recommended, however, that you physically test the device every six months. Each fire extinguisher comes with a manual that explains how to perform the hydrostatic testing on that particular unit.