Portable Fire Extinguisher Types and Use

Portable Fire Extinguisher Types and Use

One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is conducting work site safety meetings for our clients. I’ve been doing this for the last hundred years or so and I am amazed at how much the average Joe employee knows about safety on the job. Asking a question about the regulations for fall protection or ladder safety usually creates a sea of raised hands ready with the answer.

While years of regular safety meetings may have drilled down the basic concepts into the minds of employees, without actual practical experience much of the training remains just head knowledge.

Which brings us to this week’s topic: portable fire extinguisher types and use.

When is the last time that you or one of your employees actually used a portable fire extinguisher? I mean they actually pulled the pin, aimed at the fire, and discharged the contents of the extinguisher at the fire. If you can’t remember ever having that experience, it’s time for a little practice.

Portable Fire Extinguisher Types, Use, and Operation

The following information comes from our Safety Bulletin: “Portable Fire Extinguisher Types and Use” and contains information on the different types of portable extinguishers available today, their specific uses, and how they operate. I am going to cover the information on th

is Safety Bulletin, as well as provide some additional tips for putting this information to practice.

Types of Portable Fire Extinguisher

Types of Portable Fire Extinguishers

Type A:
For fires involving combustibles like wood or paper.
Type B:
For flammable liquids and gases.
Type C:
For fires where electricity may be present.
Type D:
For combustible metals like magnesium.

PASS Fire Extinguisher Operating Technique

Be sure to remember the PASS operating technique for portable fire extinguishers. PASS stands for:

(P)ull the Pin
Pull the pin. Pulling the pin unlocks the operating lever or button so you can discharge the extinguisher. Stand at least 6 to 8 feet from the fire. 

(A)im Low
Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.

(S)queeze the Lever Below the Handle
Squeeze the lever below the handle. Squeezing the lever discharges the contents of the extinguisher. When you release the lever, the discharge stops. Some models have a button to press rather than a lever.

(S)weep Nozzle Side to Side
Moving carefully toward the fire, keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep from side to side until the flames appear to be out. 

REMEMBER: Watch the area. If the fire starts up again, repeat the PASS technique.

Putting This Information to Use

I want to challenge you to put this information into practical use by actually discharging a portable extinguisher at a “fire.”

A large cardboard box or plastic garbage can turned on its side makes a great target for the contents of the extinguisher. The practice is best done outdoors on a calm day.

After reviewing the information contained in the handouts, put the information into practice by allowing employees to actually discharge an extinguisher. Most are amazed at the power of the discharge. Most learn that it is more difficult to aim the contents of the extinguisher than they thought. Some are amazed at just how heavy the full extinguisher is.

For the cost of re-filling an extinguisher or replacing a throw-away unit, your employees can gain valuable, practical experience that will help ensure that they respond correctly when the real emergency occurs.

Additional Firefighting Tips

Here are a few last firefighting tips to keep in mind:

  • Most fire extinguishers are emptied in less than a minute.
  • Do not attempt to fight a large fire.
  • Always leave yourself a way out; keep your back to an exit.
4 replies
  1. Tammy Houston
    Tammy Houston says:

    It was really helpful that you enumerated the different types of portable fire extinguishers and explained their uses. Perhaps, what got my attention the most was class C and that it’s used for electrical fire. I will definitely suggest buying that kind of fire extinguisher to my parents the next time they go shopping. We nearly lost our first house because of an electrical fire breakout. We didn’t know back then that water and electrical fire do not match. That’s why this time, I want us to be prepared. Thank you for sharing. I appreciate it.

  2. Burt Silver
    Burt Silver says:

    It’s interesting to know that not all fire extinguishers can be used for any type of fire. I didn’t know that they had different class types. I think this is information a lot of people aren’t aware of so this is really useful information. I think my wife and I should keep a fire extinguisher in our kitchen just in case of any accidents that may occur. Thanks!

  3. Khorae Olivier
    Khorae Olivier says:

    I like what you said about teaching employees how to fire and use a fire extinguisher. My aunt is redoing her safety regulations at the office she runs and realized she doesn’t even know how to use a fire extinguisher talking to me the other night. Thank you for the information about how people need to learn the power of the discharge and how hard it is to aim the extinguisher is.

  4. Taylor Bishop
    Taylor Bishop says:

    I wanted to thank you for helping me learn more about portable fire extinguishers. I didn’t know that there were different types of fire extinguishers, like how type B is for flammable liquids. I’m kind of interested to learn if this means type B is ideal to have for the kitchen.


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