Portable Fire Extinguisher ABCs

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Know Your Limits

In the hands of a properly trained person, a fire extinguisher can save lives and protect property. Extinguishers are designed to extinguish or contain small fires. However, even against small fires, they have limits.

  • The extinguisher must be of the proper class.
  • Must be large enough. Most extinguishers discharge in seconds.
  • The extinguisher must be operable and within reach.
  • The operator must know how to use the extinguisher.

Classes of Fire

The extinguisher you use must be matched to the type of material that is burning. Materials fall into three basic classes:

  • Type A: Ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics.
  • Type B: Flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, tar, oil-based paint, lacquer, and flammable gas.
  • Type C: Energized electrical equipment including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery, and appliances.

You must match the correct class of extinguisher with the type of material burning. Using the wrong extinguisher is dangerous and can make the fire worse. Know the type of extinguisher nearest your room or work location.

Fight or Flight?

Before you use an extinguisher:

  • Make sure the fire alarm has been activated.
  • Know how to properly use the extinguisher.
  • Be sure someone has called 9-1-1.
  • Be sure to use the proper type of extinguisher.
  • Keep your back to a safe exit.
  • Remember: safety first!
  • If in doubt, close the door and leave!

P.A.S.S. the Test

  • Pull the pin.
  • Aim low: point the extinguisher nozzle (or its horn or hose) at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the handle: this releases the extinguishing agent.
  • Sweep from side to side: keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until it appears to be out. Watch the fire area. If fire breaks out again, repeat the process.

In Case Of Fire

If a fire occurs, your actions can make the difference between a minor fire and a disaster.

Close the door to the fire area.
Activate the fire alarm system.
Call 9-1-1 and report the fire.
Evacuate from the building. DO NOT USE THE ELEVATOR.
Stay low in smoke (crawl).
Use the extinguisher only if your are trained to do so.

Always keep your extinguisher unobstructed. Report discharged, damaged, or missing extinguishers to Environmental Health and Safety (EH&S) at: (413) 545-2682, and use our Fire Extinguisher Service Request Form. EH&S also conducts hands-on fire extinguisher training. To schedule a program, call EH&S at: 413-545-2682.