How to Use a Fire Extinguisher
In case of a fire, know what to do without hesitation
You're at the stove when suddenly a fire erupts. You're prepared because you have a fire extinguisher at the ready. But in the heat (literally) of the moment, do you know how to use it? Chances are, you've never thought about it.
Even before you learn how, make sure you know what type of fire extinguisher to use — and not to use — on what type of fire. An ABC extinguisher should cover you for most types of house fires. Second, make sure you should use a fire extinguisher at all. (More on this in a minute.)
Finally, memorize the acronym PASS so you'll know exactly how to put out the fire with the extinguisher, says John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL.
- Pull the pin on the extinguisher.
- Aim the extinguisher nozzle at the base of the fire, not at the top of the flames.
- Squeeze the trigger; don’t jerk it.
- Sweep back and forth along the base of the fire, not over the top or into the middle of the flames.
Tips for using an extinguisher safely
Where you stand while using the extinguisher matters. “The smaller the extinguisher, the less time you have to use it,” says Drengenberg. “The ones the size of a two-liter bottle of soda will not give you a full minute” to put out the flames. “That’s why it’s important to extinguish the fire with your back toward the door,” he says. “If the extinguisher cannot do the job, you can still get out of there.”
Here are other tips for safe extinguisher use, courtesy of Drengenberg and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
- Choose a fire extinguisher that carries the label of an independent testing laboratory such as UL.
- Buy one you can handle. Some models are heavy and bulky.
- Read the instructions before a fire breaks out. “An emergency is no time to start reading the label” says Drengenberg.
- If possible, take a free hands-on fire extinguisher training session from your local fire department. Most fire departments offer them to the public.
- If a fire breaks out, first make sure everyone is out of the building and someone has called the fire department.
- If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.
- Know when to get out. Your first priority is a safe escape.
Related: How to Survive a Fire
Should you use an extinguisher at all?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advises asking yourself these questions before attempting to put out a fire:
- Has someone called the fire department?
- Are there two ways to exit the area quickly and safely if I attempt to extinguish the fire?
- Do I have the right type of extinguisher for the type of fire?
- Is the extinguisher large enough for the fire?
- Is the fire small and contained (like in a wastepaper basket)?
- Is the area free from other dangers, such as hazardous materials or any debris?
"If you answer 'NO' to any of these questions or if you will be unable to put out the fire in 5 seconds using the extinguisher, you should not use a fire extinguisher," writes FEMA.
UL recommends shaking your fire extinguisher once a month if it's a dry chemical fire extinguisher so the powder doesn't become packed down, and replacing it every 5 to 10 years.