Extinguishers Have Limits but when used properly a portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives. Portable extinguishers for home use, however, are not designed to fight large or spreading fires, they are useful only under certain conditions.
The operator must know how to use the extinguisher. There is no time to read directions during an emergency.
The extinguisher must be within easy reach and in working order, fully charged.
The operator must have a clear escape route that will not be blocked by fire.
The extinguisher must match the type of fire being fought. Extinguishers that contain water are unsuitable for use on grease or electrical fires.
The extinguisher must be large enough to put out the fire. Many portable extinguishers discharge completely in as few as 8 to 10 seconds.
Choosing Your Extinguisher depends on knowing the 3 basic classes of fires. All fire extinguishers are labeled using standard symbols for the classes of fire they can put out (see illustration at right). A red slash through any of the symbols tells you the extinguisher cannot be used on that class of fire. A missing symbol tells you that the extinguisher has not been tested for a given class of fire.
CLASS A Ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, and paper.
CLASS B Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, and oil-based paint.
CLASS C Energized electrical equipment — including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, and appliances.
The extinguisher MUST be appropriate for the type of fire being fought. If you use the wrong type of extinguisher, you can endanger yourself and make the fire worse. Multipurpose fire extinguishers marked ABC may be used on all three classes of fires.
Extinguisher Sizes. Portable extinguishers are also rated for the size of fire they can handle. This rating will appear on the label — for example, 2A:10B:C. The larger the numbers, the larger the fire that the extinguisher can put out, but higher-rated models are often heavier. Make sure you can hold and operate an extinguisher before you but it.
Installation and Maintenance. Extinguishers should be installed in plain view, above the reach of children, near an escape route, and away from stoves and heating appliances. Extinguishers require routine care. Read your operator’s manual to learn how to inspect your extinguisher. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on maintenance. Rechargeable models must be serviced after every use. (Service companies are listed in the Yellow Pages under “Fire Extinguishers.”) Disposable fire extinguishers can be used only once and must be replaced after use.
When using a fire extinguisher keep your back to an unobstructed exit and stand 6 to 8 feet away from the fire. Follow the four-step PASS procedure:
Pull the pin: this unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge the extinguisher.
Aim low: point the extinguisher nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.
Squeeze the lever above the handle: this discharges the extinguishing agent. Releasing the lever will stop the discharge.
Sweep from side to side: moving carefully toward the fire, keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until the flames appear to be out. Watch the fire area. If the fire reignites, repeat the process.
IMPORTANT: Always be sure the fire department inspects the fire site, even if you think you have extinguished the fire completely!