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ARI Blog: Article

Proper Use of Fire Extinguisher

Most organizations are equipped to fight fires with either fixed and/or portable type systems. Fixed systems typically include water equipment, such as automatic sprinklers, standpipe hoses, etc., and must be supplemented by portable fire extinguishers. Not only can fire extinguishers prevent a small fire from spreading, but they can also rapidly extinguish a fire in its beginning stages when such equipment is readily accessible and performed by a trained person.

Principles of Use: Portable fire extinguishers should be available and ready for an emergency by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 10 Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers. To be effective, portable extinguishers must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be approved by a recognized testing laboratory.

  • Must be the proper type for each class of fire that may occur in the area.

  • Must be of sufficient size to protect against the expected exposure in the area.

  • Must be located where they are easy to reach for immediate use.

  • Must be maintained in good operating condition and checked/inspected monthly.

  • Must be utilized by trained personnel.

Classes of Fires:

All fire extinguishers are labeled with standard symbols for the classes of fires they can effectively extinguish. There are four main classes of fires:

  • Class A: Ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics.

  • Class B: Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, tar, oil-based paint, lacquer, and flammable gas.

  • Class C: Energized electrical equipment, including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery, and appliances.

  • Class D: Combustible metals such as magnesium, aluminum, zinc.

Many fire extinguishers are “multipurpose” ABC models, labeled for use on fire's respective classes. If faced with a Class A fire and don’t have an extinguisher with an “A” symbol, don’t hesitate to use one with the “B:C” symbols. It is dangerous to use water or an extinguisher labeled only for Class A fires on a grease or electrical fire.

Properly Using a Fire Extinguisher: First, have someone notify the fire department. Stand approximately 6 to 8 feet away from the fire and follow the four-step P.A.S.S. procedure; Pull the pin out – 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 below 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 extinguished. Watch the fire area, and if the fire re-ignites, repeat the process.

Important: If the fire does not begin to go out immediately, leave the area at once, and wait for the fire department.

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