How And When To Use A Fire Extinguisher

Most fires start small.  If the fire is contained to a single object, such as a trash can, you may want to try using a fire extinguisher to put out the flames.  Realizing you only have a few seconds before the fire will triple in size, deciding on when and how to use your fire extinguisher is critical.

You should only consider using a fire extinguisher if all members of your home have been alerted to the fire.  Make sure you are safe from smoke and that the fire is not between you and your only escape route.

When it comes to purchasing a fire extinguisher, look for one that is tested by an independent testing laboratory.  Also, look for one labeled A-B-C as it can be used on most fires that would occur in your home.  You want to be sure the the type of fire extinguisher you use is the right one for the fire you are dealing with.  The types of Fire extinguishers are:

  • TYPE A — Class A extinguishers are for use on fires that contain ordinary combustibles such as paper, wood, cloth, plastics, etc.
  • TYPE B — Class B extinguishers are for use on fires containing flammable liquids like oil, gasoline, etc.
  • TYPE C — Class C extinguishers are for fires involving electrical equipment such as tools or appliances.
  • TYPE D — Class D extinguishers are for use on combustible metals.  This type of extinguisher is generally only found in factories that work with these particular metals.
  • TYPE K — Class K extinguishers are for use on fires involving combustible cooking liquids such as animal oils, vegetable oils and fats.  This type of extinguisher is most likely to be found in a commercial kitchen.

Make sure you know how to operate your fire extinguisher.  You will not have time to read the instructions during an emergency.  Keep it in an easily accessible area, not blocked by anything that could keep you from getting it when needed.

To use a fire extinguisher effectively, remember the word P.A.S.S.  Pull the pin.  Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire. Squeeze the handle, releasing the extinguishing agent.  Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out.  Watch the fire area to make sure the fire doesn’t break out again.  If the fire comes back, repeat the process as necessary.

More information on fire extinguisher safety and types of extinguishers can be found by visiting the Cal Fire website. 

Bryan May

Bryan May is a Public Information Officer for the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Prior to joining Cal OES in 2017, Bryan spent 30 years as an Emmy award winning television anchor and reporter.

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