How To Use A Fire Extinguisher

How To Use A Fire Extinguisher

What are the chances you’ve encountered an incident that absolutely required you use a fire extinguisher?

More so, what is the possibility that you had one beside you, but still got stranded because you did not know exactly how to use it. This is not the kind of situation you want to find yourself in.

And yet many people around the world, find themselves in such a predicament. According to a 2009 report of the International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics, “the United State’s mortality rate from fires ranked 8th amongst 25 developed countries for which statistics were made available”. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in a 2010 report, notes that children below 4 are at greater risk of being involved in a fire incident at home, as well as adults 65 and above. These statistics would probably not be very different today. We never can tell who the next victim will be or how helpful we can be in such a situation.

However one small thing we can do to be prepared is know how to use a fire extinguisher.

The Problem

People tend to pay very little attention to things as “basic” as using a fire extinguisher. To them, this kind of knowledge is not very useful since they would never expect to face a situation like this in their lifetime. They only know that anything can happen to anyone; and that they too can become victims of fire accidents when disaster strikes. At that time, things could get even worse because using a fire extinguisher incorrectly could cause more harm than good and does not help an already complicated situation.

And usually, during such incidences, people get so confused that the likelihood of making a wrong move with the fire extinguisher raises dramatically. On average, a person died in a fire every 169 minutes in 2010, while another got injured after every 30 minutes (Karta 2011). The risk is real and we need to acknowledge this fact and start making efforts to protect ourselves from being victims (…possibly by knowing how to use a fire extinguisher correctly?).

It is important to learn basic skills of disaster risk management, one of which is knowing how to use a fire extinguisher. It is clear that that you may need to use that skill some day, and probably sooner than you think.

If it is not to save you, it could be someone you run into (in a disaster), or someone close to you. Imagine yourself trapped in a burning apartment where you have access to a fire extinguisher but didn’t know how to use it. Imagine your child trapped in his flaming room nearby and you can’t save them because you don’t know how to use your fire extinguisher.  The examples could go on and on, and these are real world situations that occur every day.

All of these go a long way to emphasize the importance of knowing how to use a fire extinguisher.

Steps to using a fire extinguisher

The entire process can be summarized in four simple steps called PASS. T

“P” is for Pull: You will have to pull a pin located at the top of the extinguisher to permit it release its content. The pin acts like a lock. Once it is pulled, the extinguisher is opened and can released the innards. This is the first thing you must do in order to use your fire extinguisher. If you are one of those who cannot execute even this first step, you may want to consider practicing it now. It is better to do so now rather than when a crisis presents itself. You may not know what to do then which could make things worse.

“A” is for Aim: You will have to target the source of the fire and not just pour the extinguisher at the surface of the flame. It could be a serious problem if you pull the pin but waste it by not applying it to the source of the fire. While many people already know this, its worth pointing out that a fire is not put out by spraying the flame, rather at the base of the flame (at whatever is burning). Between 2010 and 2012, Eastern Kentucky University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute jointly conducted a study on how effectively ordinary people use the fire extinguisher. Of the 276 participants in that study, 72% actually did the right thing; aiming at the base of the fire.  This tells us that people know what to do, but a few others are still ignorant. DON’T BE ONE OF THEM!

The first “S” is for Squeezing: You will have to squeeze the lever (usually slowly) to release the extinguisher. This is pretty self explanatory. The lever is at the top and all that is required of you is squeezing it, as you would do while filling your tank at a gas station.

The second “S” is for Sweeping: As you are spraying the extinguisher you want to move it from side to side. This is necessary if you want to put the whole fire out. This sweeping motion has been proven to be more effective in putting out the fire (provided you target the source).

What else you should know about fire extinguishers?

There is much more to know about fire extinguishers then simply how to use them. Even knowing how, you can still face problems if you don’t know other important aspects about the device.

For example, fire extinguishers typically run for a very limited time (as short as only 10 seconds). This information is very important because it helps you to know for how long you can attempt to put down a fire. Should you pass that limit, you will have to retreat and seek help.

Also, replace your fire extinguisher immediately after use. Some of the devices are rechargeable. If that is the case with your type of extinguisher, recharge it as soon as it is used. Some people have the habit of keeping an empty fire extinguisher at home (probably hoping that they can use it again should they face an incidence). That’s simply not always true.

Always keep your fire extinguisher away from high heat sources (unless you’re using it to put out a fire; and it is good for everyone in the house to know where it is placed and be able to use it.

These tips will go a long way to prevent a tragedy at home and minimize the impact of a fire incident should it ever occur. Knowing how to use a fire extinguisher is important and is always a skill your family should have.

~ FESF Team

Image courtesy of supakitmod at

October 10, 2014