Home Fire Extinguishers
A home portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by putting out a small
fire or containing it until the fire department arrives. They aren't, however, designed
to fight large or spreading fires and they aren't for everyone. Even against small
fires, you should use them only if:
- You are an adult.
- You know how to operate the extinguisher
- The extinguisher is in easy reach and in working order
- You have a clear escape route that won't be blocked by fire.
- The extinguisher matches the type of fire you're fighting.
- The extinguisher is large enough to put out the fire.
Read the Label
There are three basic types of fires. All fire extinguishers are labeled with standard
symbols, letters, or both for the classes of fires they can put out.
- Class A
Ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, and paper. Extinguishers labeled for
only Class A fires contain water and are unsuitable for use on grease or electrical
- Class B
Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, and oil-based paint.
- Class C
Energized electrical equipment - including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers,
machinery, and appliances.
Multipurpose fire extinguishers, labeled ABC, may be used on all three classes of
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 that class of fire. If you are using the wrong type of extinguisher,
you can endanger yourself and even make the fire worse.
Portable extinguishers are rated for the size of fire they can handle. This rating
is also on the label - for example, 2A:10B:C. The larger the numbers, the larger
the fire that the extinguisher can put out, but higher-rated models are often heavier.
Make sure you can hold and operate an extinguisher before you buy it. (Note: Many
portable extinguishers discharge completely in as few as 8-10 seconds, which may
not be enough to put out the fire.)
Installation and Maintenance
Install extinguishers in plain view, above the reach of children, near an escape
route, and away from stoves and heating appliances.
Take care of your extinguishers. Read your operator's manual, learn how to inspect
your extinguisher, and follow the manufacturer's instructions for maintenance.
Rechargeable extinguishers must be serviced after every use. (Service companies
are listed in the Yellow Pages under "Fire Extinguishers.") Disposable fire extinguishers
can be used only once and must be replaced after use.
Fighting Small Fires: PASS
Only fight a fire if you feel confident to continue. Keep your back to an unobstructed
exit and begin by standing 6-8 feet away from the fire.
Follow the four-step PASS
procedure - Pull, Aim, Squeeze, and Sweep.
- PULL the pin
- This unlocks the operating lever and allows you to discharge
the extinguisher. Some extinguishers may have other lever-release mechanisms.
- AIM low
- Point the extinguisher nozzle (or hose) at the base of the fire.
- 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.)
- 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 reignites, repeat the process.