Fire: Fire Extinguisher

Choosing Your Extinguisher

Fire Extinguisher Graphic

Class of Fires: There are three basic classes of fires. All fire extinguishers are labeled using standard symbols for the classes of fires they can put out. 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 only that the extinguisher has not been tested for a given class of fire.

Class A Fire Extinguisher Label Class A: Ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics.
Class B Fire Extinguisher Label Class B: Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, tar, oil-based paint, lacquer, and flammable gas.
Class C Fire Extinguisher Label Class C: Energized electrical equipment including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery, and appliances.

Many household fire extinguishers are "multipurpose: A-B-C models, labeled for use on all three classes of fire. If you are ever 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" symbol.

WARNING: It is very dangerous to use water or an extinguisher labeled only for Class A on a grease (Class B) or electrical fire (Class C).

Extinguishers Have Limits

  • 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 extinguisher must be kept near the exit, so the user has an escape route that will not be blocked by fire.
  • The extinguisher must match the type of fire you are fighting. Extinguishers that contain water are unsuitable for use on grease or electrical fires.
  • The extinguisher must be large enough to put out the fire. Most portable extinguishers discharge completely in as few as eight seconds.

Before You Begin to Fight a Fire

  • Make sure everyone has left, or is leaving the building.
  • Make sure the fire department has been called. CALL 911
  • Make sure the fire is confined to a small area and is not spreading.
  • Make sure you have an unobstructed escape route to which the fire will not spread.
  • Be sure you have read the instructions that you know how to use the extinguisher.

If any of the above are not met, it is reckless to fight the fire. Instead, leave immediately and close off the area.

Extinguisher Maintenance

Extinguishers should be inspected monthly for the following:

  • Located in its designated location. Not more than 75 feet travel distance between one per floor level. Mounted with the top of the extinguisher not more than 5 feet above the floor.
  • No obstruction to access or visibility.
  • Operating instructions on nameplate legible and facing outward.
  • Tamper seals not broken or missing.
  • Fullness determined by weighing or hefting. Weight should match label.
  • Examined for obvious physical damage, corrosion, leakage, or clogged nozzle.
  • Pressure gauge reading or indicator in the operable range or position.
  • Shake extinguisher so that the powder does not become packed.

When an inspection reveals a deficiency in any of the conditions listed, immediate corrective action shall be taken.

Extinguishers out of service for maintenance or recharge shall be replaced by spare extinguishers of the same type and at least equal rating.

Recharge or Replace?

Fire Extinguishers need to be replaced or recharged after six years. Look in the yellow pages under Fire Extinguishers for companies that can test your extinguisher. In some cases, it may be less expensive to replace the extinguisher.

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

Keep your back to an exit and stand six to eight feet away from the fire. Follow the four-step PASS procedure. If the fire does not begin to go out immediately, leave the area at once.

Fire Extinguisher Instruction Graphic PULL the pin: This unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge the extinguisher. Some extinguishers may have other seals or tamper indicators.
Fire Extinguisher Instruction Graphic AIM low: Point the extinguisher nozzle (or hose) at the base of the fire.
Fire Extinguisher Instruction Graphic SQUEEZE the lever above the handle: This discharges the extinguishing agent. Releasing the lever will stop the discharge. (Some extinguishers have a button instead of a lever.)
Fire Extinguisher Instruction Graphic 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 re-ignites, repeat the process.

Always be sure the fire department inspects the fire site, even if you think you've extinguished the fire.

Information and Graphics courtesy of the National Fire Protection Association.