How to Use a Portable Fire Extinguisher

Merely installing a fire extinguisher won’t guarantee fire safety. There are many other factors that determine safety during a fire emergency. And learning how to use a portable fire extinguisher is a crucial skill that can help save lives. In residences, members of the family must know how to locate, inspect, and operate a fire extinguisher. In the case of commercial premises, it is the duty of the employer to teach the employees how to use a portable fire extinguisher and tackle small fires effectively.

OSHA guidelines dictate that employers undertake suitable training for the employees regarding the use of fire extinguishers and risks associated with small fires. Annual fire training exercises, new inductee training, and timely inspections must be organized to ensure safety. Designated fire fighting employees should be re-skilled to update their knowledge on how to use a portable fire extinguisher.

Small red fire extinguisher in the car to prevent emergencies.
Small red fire extinguisher in the car to prevent emergencies.

When to Use a Fire Extinguisher

Fires tend to surprise! What’s the first thing that strikes your mind when you encounter a small fire? Well, a suitably trained employee would immediately locate the portable fire extinguisher and operate it within seconds to douse the sparks before they become blazing flames. The first few moments of response can determine how the entire incident unfolds. Those golden seconds can change the narrative and save countless lives.

When you are facing a grave fire hazard, it is best to analyze the situation first. Training helps you differentiate between small fire incidents and grave mishaps. Not all fires can be doused with a portable device, and sometimes it is best to rush out to save your life. So, how do you know when to use a fire extinguisher? Here is a checklist to ponder over before you rush towards that fire extinguisher.

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  • Has the fire just begun and can still be controlled safely?
  • Is the area under fire small enough to tackle independently?
  • Can you reach the portable fire extinguisher safely and quickly?
  • What is the fire type, and do you have the recommended fire extinguisher?
  • Is the device in operational condition, fully charged, and recently inspected?
  • Do you know how to use a portable fire extinguisher?
  • Lastly, are you certain you can put off the fire safely without risking yours or your colleague’s lives?

Proceed to douse the fire only if you tick yes to all the above-listed items. Otherwise, it is best to steer clear of the fire and reach a safety point.

Steps for Using a Fire Extinguisher

There are many types of portable fire extinguishers. They are classified according to the fire they can douse and identified as per the labels marked. For example, cooking oil-related fire cannot be put off by a fire extinguisher meant for chemical fires. Once you have the right device in your hands, you must proceed towards the fire and follow the step below.

The most common method of using a fire extinguisher is the ‘P.A.S.S.’ technique.

  • Pull – Pull the safety pin and break the tamper seal.
  • Aim – Aim the nozzle of the extinguisher towards the fire and aim low.
  • Squeeze – Gently start squeezing the handle on top to release the extinguishing agent.
  • Sweep – Move the hose in a sweeping fashion and keep aiming at the base of the fire until it is put off. Keep sweeping until you see no more flames rising.

Note: The plastic discharge horn CO2 fire extinguisher gets extremely cold during the operation and can damage the skin of the operator if touched.

Remember, only incipient stage fires can be put off safely. If the fire is still on or the device has run empty, it is time to leave the spot. In case you cannot douse the fire, proceed to sound the alarm and inform the local fire department immediately. Also, locate the exit points and establish a safe route for you and your colleagues.

Do not attempt to douse large uncontained fires as they can spread quickly. Additionally, chemical or flammable material fires cannot be contained using a portable fire extinguisher. In such cases, it is better to run towards safety. While planning an escape route, do take into consideration the smoke billowing from the area. Most fire-related deaths are a result of smoke inhalation and asphyxiation.

How to Use a Portable Fire Extinguisher to Secure Your Exit

A small portable fire extinguisher can come in handy while escaping from fires. You can use it to clear the path ahead and reach an exit. Line up all the persons and take fire extinguishers along with you while escaping. Two persons can spray the agent on the sides and help others escape while simultaneously moving forward.

Tips to Operate Fire Extinguishers

Always try to work in pairs during a fire emergency. One team can locate and operate the fire extinguishers while the other team can identify a safe escape route.

  • Fire blankets can be used in conjunction with fire extinguishers to escape unhurt.
  • While escaping, use the device judiciously as you don’t want to empty the container before you reach the exit.
  • Do not mix and match the fire extinguishers. For instance, do not use a chemical fire extinguisher during an electrical fire incident.
  • Do not aim the hose of the extinguisher above waist height as it can hurt your colleagues.
  • Use a cloth to cover your face and as respiratory protection against deadly gases.
  • Radiated heat in the room can obstruct your safe exit. In case of too hot temperatures, crawl on the floor and move outwards swiftly.

Limitations of Fire Extinguishers

There are limitations to portable fire extinguishers. They are only suitable for small fires, usually under 60 square feet in area. Moreover, their carrying capacity may not be enough to put off the fire completely. Here are some limitations you should be aware of:

  • Hand-held extinguishers have a range of just 5 feet.
  • Large extinguishers can target up to 20 feet.
  • A 35 lb. Extinguisher can operate for one minute.

Fire incidents can occur within seconds, and you would have mere seconds to make a decision. You may be able to douse the fire or you can use the device to clear the escape route. Do not try to be a hero if you don’t know anything about fire extinguishers. Sometimes, running towards safety is the most heroic thing you can do for your loved ones.