How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

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How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

aptsherpa · May 17, 2006

Fires can be frightening, but what’s even more frightening is not being prepared for them. With just a little training, you can become better equipped to deal with a fire should one ever start in your apartment. Check out this article to learn the differences between the many types of fires and extinguishers, and how best to extinguish these various fires.

Fire Types & Appropriate Extinguishers

Fires start due to combustion reactions. Stopping a fire necessitates the removal of combustion agents or the oxygen that allows them to react. There are a number of different classes of fire, each of which has its own suitable extinguisher.

Class A: Class A fires involve ordinary combustibles like paper or fabric. Extinguish these fires by lowering the temperature of the material below the combustion point and preventing further combustion from occurring. You can use pressurized water to do this, or employ a foam or multi-purpose ABC-rated dry chemical extinguisher. Do not use a carbon dioxide or ordinary BC-rated extinguisher for this type of fire.

Class B: Class B fires involve flammable liquids, gases, or greases. These fires require the removal of oxygen from the environment to prevent combustion.

Class C: These fires involve energized electrical equipment. Class C fires must not be extinguished using materials that can conduct electricity, most notably water. A nonconductive extinguishing agent must be used to put out these fires. Carbon dioxide, ordinary BC-rated dry chemical, multi-purpose ABC-rated dry chemical, or halon extinguishers can be used on these types of fires. Note that halon extinguishers are being phased out in favor of more environmentally friendly extinguishing methods.

Class D: Class D fires involve combustible metals. These can be extinguished with dry powder extinguishing agents designed specifically for the metal involved. These powders absorb heat from the material and cool it below its ignition temperature. Common combustible metals include magnesium, titanium, potassium and sodium.

Important note: Some multi-purpose extinguishers can leave behind a residue that’s harmful to electrical equipment and certain types of metals. Be aware of how different extinguishers can affect different items and choose a carbon dioxide or halon extinguisher to avoid damaging metals or electronics.

Identifying Extinguishers

A fire extinguisher faceplate should bear a label indicating what type of extinguisher it is. An extinguisher might be of class A, B, C, or a combination (i.e., AB, BC, or ABC). These labels used to incorporate letters and colors: Class A fire extinguishers had a green triangle with the letter A, Class B fire extinguishers bore a red square with the letter B, Class C extinguishers showed a blue circle with the letter C, and Class D extinguishers carried yellow stars with the letter D inside. This labeling system is being replaced with a system that features pictures demonstrating the type of fire on which an extinguisher can be used. Extinguishers marked with a combination of types are suitable for putting out more than one type of fire.

A Class A or B extinguisher should also indicate the size of the fire that can be safely quelled with that extinguisher. This is a numerical rating that has to do with the quantity of extinguishing agent in the extinguisher and the size of the fire that that amount of extinguishing agent can be used to eliminate. Class C extinguishers will be labeled to show that they don’t conduct electrical current and so can be used to put out electrical fires. Class C extinguishers always have a cross-rating with A or B. Class D extinguishers carry no indication of the size of fire they can be used on, only the type (certain kinds of metals).

Extinguishing Technique

To extinguish a fire successfully, all you have to do is remember the components of the acronym PASS: Pull the pin, Aim the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the flames, Squeeze the trigger while holding the extinguisher upright, and Sweep the extinguisher from side to side, covering the area of the fire with the extinguishing agent. These steps help ensure that you’ll activate the extinguisher properly and that you’ll use it to put out the fire completely, at its source. Aiming at the fire itself, rather than at the base, is a less effective technique than aiming at the base. Keeping the extinguisher pointed at only one part of the fire will also reduce your chances of putting out the entire fire for good.

When Not to Extinguish

Your safety is the number one priority. If extinguishing the fire will be the safest option, you should do so. However, always maintain a safe escape route should the extinguisher fail or should you be unable to put out the fire. If your escape route becomes blocked or if you have difficulties extinguishing the fire, you should leave the area immediately. Also stop trying to put out the fire if the extinguisher runs out of agent, appears to be ineffective, or if the fire becomes too large to handle. Getting out of the apartment and alerting others is imperative if a fire cannot be extinguished quickly.

Inspecting your Extinguisher

If your apartment provides a fire extinguisher, your landlord should be responsible for inspecting it regularly to make sure it remains in working condition. Should you want to determine whether your extinguisher merits inspection, check the seal that secures the pin in the extinguisher handle. If it looks like it’s been tampered with, you may need a new extinguisher. Check the extinguisher’s gauge and feel the weight of the extinguisher to see if it’s full. The gauge should be in a green area and the extinguisher should feel fairly heavy. If you suspect that your extinguisher is not in working condition, notify your landlord immediately. Remember that you’re not a fire safety professional and you’re always better off sending a false alarm than keeping quiet about a potentially unsafe situation.

If you know where your fire extinguisher is located and when to use it (as well as when not to use it), you should be all set. This article and helpful resources online can help you learn more. If you still want to find out additional information about fighting fires, contact your local fire department.

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