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How to use a fire extinguisher: complete guide to operation and use

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Complete guide outlines how to use a fire extinguisher, the different types, and how to operate safely so you can still escape the fire if it becomes serious.

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In an emergency, there is no time to first read up on how to use a fire extinguisher properly. It is therefore strongly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the device when purchasing it. Also, not every fire is put out the same way, so follow the hints and tips on how to put it out.

It is also a good idea to teach older children how to the use the fire extinguisher and make sure they are comfortable with it.

The 4 fire extinguisher classes: A, B, C and D

Portable fire extinguishers are equipped with various extinguishing agents. The most common are powder or foam extinguishers. However, extinguishers are also filled with water, carbon dioxide and other extinguishing agents.

As a small hint, it should be noted that the white powder cloud from a powder extinguisher may look unhealthy, but it is completely harmless and is not harmful to health when inhaled.

The extinguishing agent must always be matched to the respective fuel in order to achieve an optimal extinguishing effect or to prevent the fire from spreading at all.
To simplify matters, the various fires were assigned to fire classes depending on the nature of the fuel.

The fire extinguishers are also designed according to these fire classes and reading the symbols makes the areas of application of the extinguisher clear. Here is a small list of the classes, and the fires each one is designed to extinguish.

There are four classes of fire extinguishers – A, B, C and D – and each class can put out a different type of fire.

  • Class A extinguishers will put out fires in ordinary combustibles such as wood and paper
  • Class B extinguishers are for use on flammable liquids like grease, gasoline and oil
  • Class C extinguishers are suitable for use only on electrically energized fires
  • Class D extinguishers are designed for use on flammable metals

Multipurpose extinguishers can be used on different types of fires and will be labeled with more than one class, like A-B, B-C or A-B-C.

How to use a fire extinguisher

If you discover a fire early on yourself, a well-maintained fire extinguisher can possibly prevent it getting worse. Fire extinguishers differ not only in terms of the extinguishing agent, but also in terms of form and function. This is reflected in the handling and operation.

To be able to use a fire extinguisher, one must first of all have one on hand! Make sure you know where the fire extinguisher is at your home and your office. Experts suggest having the fire extinguisher located near the exit door, so you don’t have to go into the fire to get it.

The operatiing instructions of the extinguisher can always be read on the extinguisher itself and you should take a moment to understand the instructions. 

Many modern fire extinguishers have a propellant attached in or on the extinguisher in addition to the extinguishing agent, so it is generally not under pressure (unlike permanent pressure extinguishers) until the propellant has been added. If this is the case, please wait approx. 10-15 seconds until the propellant has distributed in the extinguisher in order to achieve optimal extinguishing performance.

  • Identify which materials are burning! For solid dry material such as wood, fabric or solid plastic, a normal fire extinguisher with powder or foam is used. What can be deleted with it is noted on the device. However, if grease or oil catches fire, a special grease extinguisher must be used.
  • Take the fire extinguisher out of the holder. Still, keep an eye on your escape route in case you can’t get the fire under control. Think about your retreat and stand with your back to the door. This allows you to move backwards out of the danger zone if you need to when using the fire extinguisher.
  • Pull the safety pin, hold the hose tight and squeeze the trigger!  Depending on the extinguisher, this can also be a lever or a handle that must be pulled out. It is therefore important to familiarize yourself with the fire extinguisher in advance.
  • Aim the fire extinguisher at the burning materials at the base of the fire, not the flames! If you smother the source of the fire, the flames will go away on their own.
  • Don’t just aim at one spot: Sweep the spray from the extinguisher from side to side to extinguish the whole fire.

This can be summarized as PASS: Pull, Aim, Spray, Sweep!

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You should not only think about possible fires in your household, but also, for example, a fire in your car. Are you prepared for this too? In such a case so-called mobile extinguishing agents are the best aid. 

And remember: You cannot fight a serious fire just with a fire extinguisher. Call the fire department immediately! Only then can you begin containment with the fire extinguisher. But leave at the right moment, the fire can trap you very quickly!

Maintenance

A current study shows that over 80 percent of all incipient fires in the commercial sector are successfully extinguished by a fire extinguisher. A high success rate, which results from the fact that fire extinguishers are required by law in companies and commercial operations and their functionality is checked every two years.

Many private households have a fire extinguisher, but only 40 percent of those are regularly checked by a fire protection expert. Many devices have been hanging untouched in the basement since the house was built (on average for over 30 years).

Have the fire extinguisher checked

In order to guarantee the functionality, it should be checked at least every two years by a fire protection expert, and yearly in offices is best. As part of the approximately 15-minute test, the consistency of the extinguishing agents and propellants in particular is checked.

The background: over the years, the properties of the extinguishing agent change and a possible loss of propellant prevents the extinguishing agent from escaping optimally from the extinguishing gun in an emergency. Even small hairline cracks in seals and valves can be the cause of a loss of the propellant.

If a fire extinguisher has not been subjected to a professional inspection in the last two years, you should inform the fire protection specialist for your own safety.

What parts of the fire extinguisher are tested?
  • Checking the extinguishing agent
  • Checking the propellant
  • Checking the extinguishing hose
  • Checking the extinguishing pistol
  • General condition of the device

Regular checks guarantee functional reliability and can save lives in an emergency!

Buying a fire extinguisher

Before you eagerly start looking and order or buy the first fire extinguisher that you can find, you should definitely consult a knowledgeable specialist again. Why should they do this?

For example, if you are the owner of a single-family house, it is advisable to install different fire extinguishers on the different floors. As you can imagine, the likelihood of a grease fire is higher in the kitchen than in the attic or basement. You should therefore think carefully about where and where you have which substances. In this way, you can also intervene professionally in the event of a fire, protect your belongings and prevent a larger fire.

So don’t just go to your favorite hardware store, but contact companies that have experience in security technology and fire protection. Of course, you can also ask your local fire department for advice, and the US Fire Aministration has loads of free publications and DVDs available on its site.

Conclusion

As you have now learned, there is more to consider when it comes to fire extinguishers than you might initially think. Do not take a possible fire lightly! Many people before you have made this mistake and have bitterly regretted it. Or they have used the wrong method to try and put out a fire… you shouldn’t put out a grease fire in the kitchen with water, for example! The water would cause an explosive distribution of the burning fat!

You should be aware that a fire is possible at any time. You should therefore invest in a fire extinguisher as a preventive measure, understand how to use a fire extinguisher and of course have it checked regularly and replaced if necessary. So protect your family from dangerous injuries and your beloved belongings from destruction.