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Would You Know Which Fire Extinguisher To Use In An Emergency?

group of fire extinguishers

Most of us would like to think that we could keep our heads in a fire and do the right thing. In most cases the right thing is to get and stay out. However, in the unlikely situation that you need to try to tackle a small fire yourself then you will need to make sure that you use the right extinguisher. When it comes to an actual fire, doing the right thing, could be the difference between successfully stopping the situation from developing and someone being hurt or even killed. Fire extinguishers can be the first and last line of defence before the fire spreads so, if you are in a situation where you do need to use one, it must be the right one and it must be used correctly. The handling of fire extinguishers is taught in fire training courses, which is crucial for being prepared to tackle fires.

PASS – The Best Method

Whatever fire extinguisher you are using you need to use the P.A.S.S. method to ensure it goes out. P.A.S.S. is the acronym for:

  • Pull – remove the the safety pin or tag. Once this is out the extinguisher should be ready to go.
  • Aim – always aim at the base of the fire. Extinguishers work by breaking what is known as the fire triangle. You probably remember it from school. For combustion to take place you need fuel, oxygen and heat. If you aim at the flames, rather than the source of the flames, the extinguisher will not break the chemical reaction. So, aim at the base of the flames where the fuel is feeding the fire.
  • Squeeze – squeeze the trigger slowly and steadily until the extinguisher starts to work.
  • Sweep – sweep the extinguisher back and forth over the base of the flames until the fire is out.

Which Fire Extinguisher For Which Kind of Fire?

If you use the wrong extinguisher it is simply not going to work or do very little. In some cases, using the wrong extinguisher could make the fire worse. For example, using a water-based extinguisher on burning petrol could help to spread the burning liquid. If you use a water extinguisher on a burning deep fat fryer, not only will it not work, it will most likely cause a ball of flame which will spread the fire.

There are 6 kinds of fire and 5 kinds of extinguisher that you could find in the workplace.

CLASS A – Combustible Materials

CLASS B – Flammable Liquids

CLASS C – Flammable Gas

CLASS D – Flammable Metals

ELECTRICAL

CLASS F – Hot Oil

CLASS A CLASS B CLASS C Class D ELECTRICALCLASS F
Wood, paper, fabricPetrol, paint strippersMethane, butaneLithium & similarTVs, computers & similarChip pans, fryers
Water
Carbon DioxideCarbon Dioxide
FoamFoam
PowderPowderPowderPowderPowder
Wet ChemicalWet Chemical

Looking at this table you would be forgiven for wondering why they do not simply install powder extinguishers everywhere. This is for practical reasons. The powder used in extinguishers is very fine and can cause visibility issues, breathing problems and other difficulties when fired. After the fire is out the mess created by powder is much harder to manage than water or Co2. This is why water and Co2, both of which are considerably less versatile than powder, are the most common. The average office will usually have both of these.

There are a few safety tips regarding fire extinguishers that you should keep in mind.

Water Fire Extinguishers – What To Know

The water will be ejected with quite some force so there is no need to be directly over the fire. Naturally the water will splash and puddle around the area of the fire so beware of electrical hazards. Standing water could create a slip and fall hazard.

Co2 Fire Extinguishers – What To Know

Carbon Dioxide is a naturally occurring gas, but like all gasses, it can be dangerous. A sudden increase in Co2 in a confined space can cause a shortage of oxygen and that can lead to fainting and disorientation. Not a good thing around a fire. The cone at the top of the extinguisher where the Co2 comes out will become very cold and can cause injury to skin.

Powder Fire Extinguishers – What To Know

Although the power is not particularly toxic it can have a rather unpleasant side effect on your digestive system if swallowed. The biggest issues with powder though is that it goes everywhere and creates a difficult to clean mess.

Flight not Fight!

Fire extinguishers are a vital factor in keeping you and others safe, but they do need to be handled properly. If you don’t use them correctly, they will not be as effective and may not even work. Worse still you could be throwing away the only opportunity to stop a fire spreading. A Co2 extinguisher, for example, will only fire for a few seconds so you need to be fast and accurate.

Without doubt though the best option is not to use them and clear the building. Unless you have no choice, or it is totally safe to do so, fire fighting is best left to the professionals. Get out and stay out is always the best policy if you, or anyone around you, is in danger.