Should a fire ever happen, it is important to have a fire extinguisher at the ready. But without any idea how to use it, it could be more dangerous to use the extinguisher than to just run the other way. The most important part to using a fire extinguisher is to only use it when it is safe to do so. If it is not safe to fight the fire, leave the area immediately and dial 9-1-1.
That means that you know how to use an extinguisher. It also means that you have a clear exit path in the event that you are unable to extinguish the flames, allowing you to escape. If there is any doubt about the escape path, whatsoever, evacuate the building immediately. Lastly, the fire needs to be small enough to be fought by a fire extinguisher, use your best judgement for that, but again, when in doubt, evacuate and wait for first responders.
All fire extinguishers have operating instructions printed on their label. Most of them list the order of operation with the PASS Method. This is the same method that we are going to explain in this article. It is important to be familiar with it and know it instinctively.
In order to use a fire extinguisher to fight a fire, you need to locate the closest one. Be familiar with the building and take a look at any extinguishers you walk past. Not only are you familiarizing yourself with their locations, but also are performing preventative maintenance. Fire Extinguishers rely on their charge, which is indicated by the pressure gauge. Should that be depleted (in the red), then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. In looking at the fire extinguishers regularly, you notice these things.
Using the correct extinguisher for the fire is also important, as an extinguisher can be ineffective, or worse become a hazard to the user. Being familiar with the different classes of fire and the appropriate fire extinguishers for them should be a priority.
Fire Extinguisher P.A.S.S. Method
The PASS Method was created to make it easy to remember how to use a fire extinguisher. Using an extinguisher really is quite easy, though in an emergency situation, even the simplest concepts can become difficult. After locating the closest extinguisher and removing it from its wall bracket or housing, you would follow the steps of PASS:
Pull the Pin
All Fire Extinguishers have a safety pin installed in the handle. This prevents it from accidentally being activated. The pin should always pull to the left and be secured with a tamper seal. Should the seal be missing, it may indicate tampering and the extinguisher should be replaced with a known functional one. The Pin itself should be quite lose and only secured from sliding out by the tamper seal. Any other object, such as a Zip Tie in place of the tamper seal, or a nail instead of the Pin are prohibited. Replacing the Pin or the Seal with anything but the approved parts, can prevent the extinguisher from functioning.
Once you have the extinguisher at the ready, aim the nozzle towards the Base of the fire. Most fire extinguishers work by blanketing the fuel of the fire, or by cooling the fire. That’s why it is important that the base of the fire gets the most of the extinguishing agent.
Squeezing the trigger is the next step. When squeezing the trigger, make sure you are holding the nozzle firmly and are not covering the nozzle opening. Keep squeezing the handle for as long as the extinguisher is discharging. This ensures that all possible extinguishing agent is used. Note that the average extinguisher will only spray for about 10-25 seconds. That’s why it is important not to overestimate the extinguishers fire fighting capabilities.
When the fire extinguisher is discharging, sweep the nozzle across the base of the fire. By sweeping, you ensure that the base is evenly covered with the extinguishing agent. Start from a safe distance from the fire and move closer as the extinguisher fights the fire. Once the fire is extinguished, keep an eye on the area. Fires can re-ignite even after having been extinguished.
Deciding to Fight the Fire with a Fire Extinguisher
To reiterate, if you have any doubts about your ability to use a fire extinguisher or that you can be effective in fighting it – Evacuate the building immediately.
A fire extinguisher should only be used in the following scenario:
- the fire is in its early, incipient stage
- you have the right fire extinguisher for the class of fire
- you have a safe exit path
If the fire extinguisher fully discharges prior to extinguishing the fire, exit immediately and do not continue fighting it, if it develops past its incipient stage. Your safety should always be at the forefront of every fire fighting decision you make.