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Fire Safety: How to Choose and Use a Fire Extinguisher

personal fire extinguishers
Portable fire extinguishers are an important part of a fire safety plan. Learn how to choose and use these tools.

Did you know that different types of fire extinguishers fight different types of fires? In fact, using the wrong kind of extinguisher on a fire can make the fire worse.

To help landlords and homeowners protect their property, this fire safety article covers the types of fire extinguishers and offers tips for their proper use.

Types of fire extinguishers

The five main types of fire extinguishers are as follows, with each designed to put out a different kind of fire:

  • A – For use with everyday materials like cloth, wood and paper
  • B – For use with combustible and flammable liquids like grease, gasoline, oil and oil-based paints
  • C – For use with electrical equipment like appliances, tools, or other equipment that is plugged in
  • D – For use with flammable metals
  • K – For use with vegetable oils, animal oils and fats in cooking appliances

Fortunately, most portable fire extinguishers found in homes and offices are multi-purpose and can fight Classes A, B and C – all the common sources of residential fires. Class D fire extinguishers are typically used in factories, while Class K extinguishers are often found in commercial kitchens, such as restaurants and cafeterias.

When selecting a fire extinguisher, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Choose a multi-purpose extinguisher that is large enough to put out a small fire, but still easy to handle.
  • Look for an extinguisher that has the label of an independent testing laboratory.

Fire extinguisher safety tips

Portable fire extinguishers can help protect lives and property by putting out small fires or controlling the blaze until the fire department arrives. These devices have their limitations, however, and fires can quickly spread out of control. As a result, the top priority for residents is to leave the building safely

Before a fire:

  • Read the instructions for the fire extinguisher and familiarize yourself with its parts and operation. Local fire departments often offer hands-on training.
  • Install extinguishers close to an exit, with easy access.

Remember the word PASS when using a fire extinguisher:

  • Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you, and release the locking mechanism.
  • Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side.

In case of a fire:

  • Keep your back to a clear exit when using the extinguisher so you can escape if the fire cannot be controlled.
  • Know when to go. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately. Fire extinguishers are one part of a fire safety plan, but getting out safely is the most important element.
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If you have any questions about fire safety or reducing risk for your building, please call us at 877-576-5200 or post a comment below.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I just got a kitchen fire extinguisher, and I’m wanting to make sure my family knows how to use just in case. That being said, I really appreciate you sharing with me some insight on how I’m supposed to use it right. I’ll make sure I show this to my family so they know what to do in en emergency. Thanks a ton for the help.

    1. We’re thrilled that you found the information useful. It’s great that you’re training your family. Hopefully, you’ll never put the extinguisher to the test, but it’s always better to be prepared. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  2. Thank you for the help. I almost had an accident in the kitchen yesterday when I was cooking on the stove. It made me decide to invest in a fire extinguisher or two. It sounds like I need a C fire extinguisher. Is that what you would recommend for kitchen fires?

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. As stated in the article, many portable fire extinguishers are rated ABC, which are suitable for most household fires. If you have any concerns, contact your local fire department for an expert opinion. Best of luck. (And I’m glad it was a near miss, rather than an actual kitchen fire.)

  3. I didn’t even know that there were different types of fire extinguishers! That is good to know, since I work in an environment that could have a lot of electrical fires. Is the method of using the fire extinguisher different with different models? Or are they all the same?

    1. The PASS method described above should work for all types. Naturally, if you have concerns or questions, you should contact the local fire department, a great community resource. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    2. As well as PASS, another important thing to remember is to aim the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire, not at the flames!

      Sweep the extinguisher from side to side. Using a sweeping motion, move the fire extinguisher back and forth until the fire is completely out. Operate the extinguisher from a safe distance, several feet away, and then move towards the fire once it starts to diminish. Be sure to read the instructions on your fire extinguisher – different fire extinguishers recommend operating them from different distances.

      The local fire service or a reputable fire safety training company are great people to contact for staff training.

      Tom Fletcher, Director, Jackson Fire & Security Cambridge

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