Fire extinguishers are some of our first lines of defense when it comes to business and residential fires. They are relatively small, portable, and should be easily accessible in a well-prepared home or office. Unfortunately, many people don’t know how to use them correctly.
Proper fire extinguisher use comes down to more than pulling a pin and spraying the fire. In fact, fire extinguisher mistakes can make a fire worse, so it’s good to invest in a little education on the subject before you find yourself having to use one.
Fire Extinguisher Types
The only fire extinguisher that’s going to do you any good is the one that’s within reach. That said, you need to make sure you’ve got the right type of extinguisher for the type of fire you’re fighting. There’s a big difference between a stack of papers igniting and a pan full of flaming bacon grease. Fires are separated into classes, and the type of extinguisher you use depends on the class of the fire.
- Class A – These fires are fueled by solids. Wood, paper, plastic, etc.
- Class B – Class B fires involve flammable liquids. Oil, gas, and the like.
- Class C – Flammable gases like butane and methane make up this class.
- Class D – Metal fires. These are more common in industrial settings.
- Class E – Dealing with electrical equipment fires requires Class E extinguishers.
- Class F – Cooking oils and fats. This is a common type of commercial kitchen fire.
Common fire extinguisher use errors
Once you’ve got the right types of fire extinguishers installed on your property, it’s time to learn how to use them. You could take fire extinguisher use training or fire extinguisher classes if you’re really uncomfortable using one, but knowing the basics will ensure you are effectively suppressing the fire rather than spreading it.
Using the wrong type of extinguisher
If you grab the wrong type of fire extinguisher, you could be creating more problems than you are solving. There are a few types that you must always use with caution and never use on certain fires. Let’s look at some of the most crucial examples of what happens if you use the wrong fire extinguisher.
Why should you never use a co2 based extinguisher on a person?
When a person catches fire, using a fire extinguisher is a desperation move. If you let them know they are on fire, they can often simply remove some articles of clothing, suffocate the fire themselves, or stop, drop, and roll. If you must use a fire extinguisher, remember to never use a co2 based extinguisher on a person.
A Co2 fire extinguisher works by covering the target with a layer of carbon dioxide gas, which can cause frostbite, mild to extreme respiratory problems, and suffocation or death in some instances. With all the possible dangers of co2 fire extinguishers when used on people, it’s best to find some other way of extinguishing them.
Why think twice before spraying a grease fire?
Most people know better than to throw a glass of water on a grease fire, but many don’t know they should follow similar precautions when using fire extinguishers. Your kitchen fire extinguisher should be suitable for fires that involve dry materials, cooking fats, and electrical equipment. When purchasing an extinguisher for use in a home kitchen, a fire extinguisher labeled “ABC” is a great choice because it is suitable for the most common types of kitchen fires.
Examples of fire extinguisher user error
Sometimes the problems we run into are brought on by our own ignorance surrounding fire extinguisher use. Being prepared will keep you from making these simple mistakes.
Losing your cool
The most important thing when fighting a fire is staying calm and keeping your wits about you. Rushing to fight a fire before assessing the situation, using the wrong type of extinguisher, or failing to read the instructions can cause you to do more harm than good. Determine whether the fire is still small enough to fight, grab an appropriate extinguisher, make sure the fire isn’t blocking your escape route, and quickly read the instructions before use. The more you know about basic fire extinguisher use, the more your natural instincts will kick in to keep you calm.
Standing too close
This one may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people get this wrong. When using fire extinguishers, you should stand about 8 feet away. There are good reasons for this.
If you stand too far, the stream could be too weak to effectively fight the fire. If you stand too close, you could burn yourself. You may even make the fire worse if you’re too close because the pressurized accelerant in the extinguisher may catch fire. Fire extinguisher use is most effective when sprayed from the proper distance. While eight feet is a solid starting point, always assess the situation and adjust accordingly.
Leaving the scene before the fire is completely extinguished
If you’ve followed instructions on the unit and successfully put the fire out, pat yourself on the back. You’ve done a great job. But don’t run off and tell everyone about your daring deed just yet. One of the most avoidable mistakes occurs when people leave the scene, believing they’ve completely extinguished all the flames. It’s always possible for heat and flames to exist below your layer of suppressant, so it’s incredibly important to have firefighting professionals inspect the site before assuming an all-clear.
What should a fire extinguisher never be used on?
There are occasions where fire extinguisher use would be ill-advised. When dealing with very small fires, using a fire extinguisher could possibly do more damage than the fire itself. If the small fire is in an environment where it’s surrounded by expensive equipment or furnishings, the chemicals in the extinguisher could do a lot of damage.
The consequences of incorrect use of powder fire extinguishers, for example, may lead you to grab a nearby glass of water or blanket to smother the fire. By filling the room with the contents of this type of fire extinguisher, you could lose artwork and furniture that wouldn’t have otherwise been affected. Even though the question, “Do fire extinguishers make a mess” should be the last thing on your mind when fighting a severe fire, it’s something to keep in mind when fighting smaller ones.
How do you know if a fire extinguisher is unsafe?
If you don’t remember the last fire extinguisher service call you had, it’s time to inspect the extinguishers on your property. Fire extinguisher inspection is an important part of being prepared for a fire and should be performed by qualified service professionals once per year.
Even if your inspection is current, you should make sure there aren’t any visible signs that the unit may be unsafe. If you see rust, cracks, or any irregularities, it’s time for inspection or replacement.
Fire extinguisher use can be a great way to stop fires and their spread, but only when used correctly. Studying up a bit on a rainy day may very well prevent more rainy days in your future.