Learn How to Properly Identify & Correctly Use Portable Fire Extinguishers

Firefighter holding a fire extinguisher putting out a fire

No matter the environment, job site safety needs to be a top priority. 

It all starts with understanding the safety equipment at your disposal. Whether we’re talking about fall safety, fall protection for tools, or any other safety scenario, knowing how and when to use safety equipment can save lives.


The same can be said for fires on the job site.   

If a fire ever breaks out on a job site, your first instinct may be to grab the nearest fire extinguisher to try to put it out. BUT before you do, you should know the answers to the following questions. Not knowing these answers and trying to put the fire out yourself could potentially lead to extensive property damage, personal injury, or even death.


  • Is the fire too large to control with a portable fire extinguisher?
  • Is the fire extinguisher the right type & size for the fire at hand?
  • Do you know the correct sequence of steps to properly use a portable fire extinguisher?


The first thing you must understand about using portable fire extinguishers is they are not intended to be used to put out large fires. They are intended for incipient stage fires only – meaning the initial or beginning stage. Incipient fires can be handled with a portable fire extinguisher & you have no need for personal protection equipment. If you ever come across a large uncontrollable fire or you do not feel comfortable putting the fire out yourself, be sure to immediately evacuate the area and alert others of the fire.


From the proper selection of fire extinguishers to understanding the classes and safe use of each class, here’s what you need to know about portable fire extinguishers. 

Fire Extinguisher rating class

Proper Selection

Before using a fire extinguisher, it is important to know what type(s) of fire the extinguisher is rated for. Some fire extinguishers are only rated for a single type of fire (Class A, Class B, or Class D), but most fire extinguishers are rated for a combination of fires (Class AB, Class BC, Class ABC). Due to these differences, it is important to always check the labels on the fire extinguishers before using them. 


It’s also important to check the size of the fire extinguisher to know how long the extinguisher will last before being emptied. Typically, small-sized extinguishers (5 ABC) will only last 6 – 10 seconds, while larger-sized extinguishers (20 ABC) will last around 25 – 35 seconds before being emptied.


Identifying the Correct Fire Extinguisher to Use

Class A Rated

Class A Rated Fire Extinguishers are intended for use on ordinary combustibles: wood, paper, cardboard, dry vegetation, & some plastics. Class A fire extinguishers often contain water, so be sure NOT to use them on flammable liquid fires or electrical fires.

Class B Rated

Class B Rated Fire Extinguishers are intended for use on flammable liquids: fuels, paint thinners, solvents, oil, and grease. These CO2 extinguishers displace oxygen so the fire can not continue to burn, but these extinguishers can also displace the oxygen in a small enclosed place, so ONLY use them in well-ventilated areas. Also, the horn-shaped nozzle can become extremely cold, cold enough to cause frostbite, so be extremely careful when using a Class B Fire Extinguisher.

Class C Rated

Class C Rated Fire Extinguishers are intended for use on fires near or involving electrically energized equipment. This designation is typically seen on combination-type fire extinguishers that are suitable for other types of fires as well.

Class D Rated

Class D Rated Fire Extinguishers are intended to be used on fires involving combustible metals, such as magnesium, sodium, and potassium.

Class K Rated

Class K Rated Fire Extinguishers, the newest type on the market, are specialty extinguishers that are intended to be used on kitchen / deep fryer fires: animal oils, fats, and vegetable oils.


Effectively Use a Fire Extinguisher with the PASS Method

It’s important to use a fire extinguisher rated for the type of fire you’re dealing with, but it's just as important to know how to properly use the fire extinguisher. 


There are four basic steps to properly use a portable fire extinguisher. However, people often panic when seeing a fire and forget what to do. To help remember the four basic steps of using a fire extinguisher, just remember P A S S.

How to correctly use a fire extinguisher

  • P. Pull the pin out of the handle
  • A. Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire
  • S. Squeeze the handle to discharge the fire extinguisher
  • S. Sweep from side to side to help cover all the burning material

Important Tips to Remember

  • Maintain a safe escape path
  • Retreat immediately if conditions get out of control
  • Watch for flare-ups afterward
  • Beware of slippery floors
  • Watch for unstable structures and objects
  • Recharge ALL used extinguishers

OSHA Regulations

Proper fire extinguisher use isn't just something that we recommend. It’s necessary to keep employers and employees safe. It’s also required and regulated by OSHA and, as such, should become part of your OSHA safety plan at work.


While there are many standards for a variety of industries regulated by OSHA, the primary regulations for construction and general industry are found in two sections that we think would be beneficial to leave you with.



“The employer shall be responsible for the development of a fire protection program to be followed throughout all phases of the construction and demolition work, and he shall provide for the firefighting equipment as specified in this subpart. As fire hazards occur, there shall be no delay in providing the necessary equipment.”


“Where the employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace, the employer shall also provide an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage fire fighting.” 


Questions About Fire Safety and Portable Fire Extinguishers? 

At Tanner, we strive to keep our valued customers up to date with the latest safety information for when you’re on the job site. Reach out to us with your questions. We’re always here to help.