Why Knowing How to Use a Fire Extinguisher Saved Our Home

Years ago, fire drills were pretty routine at the place where I worked. In addition to the actual drill, local fire fighters trained us in how to use a fire extinguisher properly. Those skills came in pretty handy the day my laundry room caught fire. Using a standard household extinguisher and the simple technique that firefighters call PASS, I was able to extinguish the fire in about 20 seconds. Had I not known how to use the extinguisher, my house would have gone up in flames.

There is a right way to handle a fire extinguisher and a wrong way. The wrong way is to read the fire extinguisher instructions as you are headed to the fire, then blindly entering the room while swishing the nozzle in every which direction. This not only wastes the extinguishing agent but might even trap you in the room, leaving you without an exit.

The right way to operate an extinguisher is to get a little hands on training first, knowing your home fire extinguisher’s limits, and remembering the PASS-word.

Hands on training

The first time I handled a fire extinguisher, it was a bit scary. The foam shot out all over the place and I wasted a fair amount of it before figuring out how to train it on the fire. It took at least three or four practice sessions before I felt completely comfortable using the extinguisher, and was able to put out those practice fires effectively.

For those of you who have never handled a fire extinguisher before, a little “hands-on” practice is a smart idea. And, the best place to get a little hands-on training is through the local fire department. Your local fire department can show you how to properly operate an extinguisher without putting you or your family in danger. Practicing how to use an extinguisher in an controlled fire makes it that much easier to use when faced with a real one in your home.

Along with teaching you how to put out a small fire, your local fire department can also teach you the limits of a portable fire extinguisher and why they should only be used in certain circumstances.

Knowing your limits

Most of the portable fire extinguishers we keep in our homes have only 8- 10 seconds of use before they are fully discharged, and it’s important to understand that they are not designed to put out large or spreading fires. They do have their limits and won’t work if you don’t know how to use them or if they aren’t fully charged. It’s also important to understand that the class of extinguisher being used must match the type of fire being fought.

If you are unsure of any of these, it’s best to call 911 and quickly leave your home.

For those of us who feel confident about trying to extinguish a small home fire ourselves, remember that a fire can get out of control quickly. Before trying to put out the fire yourself, get everyone out of the house, call 911, and position yourself with the extinguisher so that you have a clear, and unobstructed escape route away from the fire in case it can not be extinguished.

Remembering the PASS-word

Once you grab that extinguisher, it helps to remember the acronym PASS.

P is for pulling the pin which is located at the top of the extinguisher, and typically comes in at a 90 degree angle on the handle itself. Removing the pin unlocks the handle so it can be squeezed. Not all fire extinguishers have a pin however. We have a small kitchen canister that is unlocked by simply flipping up a metal cap.

A is for aim at the base of the fire instead of aiming for the flames. To stop the fire, you have to aim at the source of fuel.

S is for squeeze the lever slowly which will release the extinguishing agent inside the canister. As long as your handle is on the lever, the agent will continue to release. Once the lever is let go, the fire extinguisher will stop working. Do operate the extinguisher at a safe distance of at least several feet away, moving in only if the flames are diminishing.

S is for sweep from side to side. As you move towards the fire, the nozzle should be kept low and swept back and forth until the flames appear to be out. Once the fire looks to be out, keep an eye on the area for several minutes in case it re-ignites.

Used properly, a small extinguisher can put out a fire or keep it contained until the fire department shows up. And what if you are successful in putting out the fire? It’s still a good idea to have the fire department come out to make sure that the fire has been completely extinguished.

Using a fire extinguisher properly is really not that difficult, but does take a certain amount of practice. For more information about fire extinguishers and how they are used, see the experts at your local Fire Department.

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