How to Use Fire Extinguishers

Posted in blog,Uncategorized on August 15, 2016

We all know that fire extinguishers can save lives. They’re mandated on every piece of public property, and many of us have them in our homes. But if a fire started around you, would you know how to use one? If your answer is a sheepish “no,” you’re not alone. Research shows that the majority of Americans have never received training on how to use a fire extinguisher. A Harris Poll of adults aged 18 and older found that 55% of those surveyed had never even been taught how to use a fire extinguisher, let alone used one themselves. The results revealed that only a quarter had ever operated a fire extinguisher.

The poll, which was conducted among 2,051 Americans, also found that there’s a gender gap in fire extinguisher training. Men were more likely to report that they had used a fire extinguisher in the past: 29% compared to 15% of women. Men were also more likely to have received formal training in operation: 44% compared to 29% of women.

Having a fire extinguisher in your home or place of business isn’t enough: knowing how to operate one is essential to your safety. Follow our primer to be better prepared in case of an emergency.

How Fire Extinguishers Work

There are several types and manufacturers of fire extinguishers, but they all work in a similar fashion. Each comes with its own set of instructions, so it’s best to review them before you need the device. A fire extinguisher typically has between 8-10 seconds of dispensing power, which may be less if it’s been partially discharged. If you want formal training in using a fire extinguisher, most fire departments offer seminars or workshops free of charge.

There are a couple of types of extinguishers. Water extinguishers, which are essentially high pressure water pistols, are less common. More likely, the extinguisher in your home is filled with a chemical such as:

  • Carbon dioxide, which works by displacing the oxygen around fire, which a flame needs to survive.
  • Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, which releases carbon dioxide as it’s exposed to heat.

Fire extinguishers are only effective for small fires that can be easily contained. If faced with a situation that requires heftier equipment, call 911 or your local fire department for backup.

Remember the Acronym: P.A.S.S.

Many professionals who provide fire extinguisher training encourage their students to remember a mnemonic “P.A.S.S.” when using an extinguisher:

  • Pull the pin, which is located at the top of the extinguisher. This allows the compressed chemicals to flow from the enclosed chamber onto the flames.
  • Aim: Don’t point the extinguisher directly at the flames; instead, direct it to the base of the fire. The aim of an extinguisher is to displace oxygen (the fire’s fuel) at its source.
  • Squeeze the lever. Though you may be nervous, try to squeeze slowly to release the extinguishing agent most effectively. The stream of chemicals will stop as soon as you release the lever.
  • Sweep. Move the extinguisher in a sweeping motion from side to side at the base of the fire until it’s completely out. Always remember to operate an extinguisher from a safe distance, ideally several feet from the fire.

Knowing how to operate a fire extinguisher is an essential part of home and business safety. In the heat of the moment, we may not have the presence of mind to read the instructions, so familiarize yourself with the directions on your unit long before you have to use it. If you’re ever in a situation where using a fire extinguisher is necessary, you’ll be happy you know how.

Scott Liljegren is a California burn injury attorney; contact Liljegren Law Group’s burn division for a free personal and specialized consultation.

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