The use of a fire extinguisher in the hands of a trained adult can be a life and property saving tool. However, a majority of adults have not had fire extinguisher training and may not know how and when to use them. Fire extinguisher use requires a sound decision making process and training on their proper use and maintenance.
Consider the following three questions before purchasing or using a fire extinguisher to control a fire:
1. What type of fire extinguisher is needed?
Different types of fires require different types of extinguishers. For example, a grease fire and an electrical fire require the use of different extinguishing agents to be effective and safely put the fire out.
Basically, there are five different types of extinguishing agents. Most fire extinguishers display symbols to show the kind of fire on which they are to be used.
There are also multipurpose fire extinguishers - such as those labeled "B-C" or "A-B-C" - that can be used on two or more of the above type fires.
2. Is the fire at a point where it might still be controlled by a fire extinguisher?
Portable fire extinguishers are valuable for immediate use on small fires. They contain a limited amount of extinguishing material and need to be properly used so that this material is not wasted. For example, when a pan initially catches fire, it may be safe to turn off the burner, place a lid on the pan, and use an extinguisher. By the time the fire has spread, however, these actions will not be adequate. Only trained firefighters can safely extinguish such fires.
Use a fire extinguisher only if:
If all of these conditions are not present, you should NOT try to use a fire extinguisher. Alert other occupants, leave the building following your home escaple plan, go to the agreed upon meeting place, and call the fire department from a cell phone or a neighbor's home.
3. Am I physically capable of using the extinguisher?
Some people have physical limitations that might diminish or eliminate their ability to properly use a fire extinguisher. People with disabilities, older adults, or children may find that an extinguisher is too heavy to handle or it may be too difficult for them to exert the necessary pressure to operate the extinguisher.
Fire extinguishers need to be regularly checked to ensure that:
All are required to safely control a fire with an extinguisher. For this reason, the U.S. Fire Association recommends that only those trained in the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers consider using them when appropriate.