But Don’t Get Burned – Learn How to Properly Identify & Correctly Use Portable Fire Extinguishers
If a fire ever breaks out on a jobsite 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 to 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 – 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 proper selection of, understanding the classes and safe use of each class, to knowing the basics on how to properly use an extinguisher using the PASS method. Be sure to read through so you know how to plan and act should you ever find yourself in the company of a fire.
Before using a fire extinguisher it is important to know what the 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. It is important to check the size of the fire extinguisher as well 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 on flammable liquid fires or electrical fires.
Class B Rated Fire Extinguishers are intended for use on flammable liquids: fuels, paint thinners, solvents, oil, & 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 in a 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 on other types of fires as well.
Class D Rated
Class D Rated Fire Extinguishers are intended to be used on fires involving combustible metals that actually burn, such as: magnesium, sodium, & 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, & 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 its just as important to know how to properly use the fire extinguisher. There are (4) basic step to properly use a portable fire extinguisher. However people often panic when seeing a fire and forget what to do. To help remember the (4) basic steps of using a fire extinguisher, just remember P A S S.
- 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
Do’s & Don’ts
- Maintain a safe escape path
- Retreat immediately if conditions get out of control
- Watch for flare-ups afterwards
- Beware of slippery floors
- Watch for unstable structures and objects
- Recharge ALL used extinguishers
In closing, proper fire extinguisher use isn’t just something that’s good to plan for, but necessary to keep employers and employees safe. It is also both 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.” Hands on experience using actual fires in a controlled environment is not required in your particular case.