Fire Extinguisher Use Steps

Most fires that occur in residential homes can be easily put under control with the right tools. The following steps should be followed in case of a fire emergency.

Steps To Using a Fire Extinguisher

The PASS Technique

There are 4 main steps you need to remember to put out a fire using a fire extinguisher. This basic technique for using a fire extinguisher is called the PASS technique. This stands for:

P – Pull the safety pin

A – Aim the extinguisher at the fire’s base

S – Squeeze the handle

S – Sweep the extinguisher from side to side while spraying.

Fire Extinguisher Use Steps

Step #1: Alert those around to stay away from the area and have them call the fire department, or call yourself. Do not expect the fire to remain within your ability to extinguish it.

Fire Extinguisher Handle

Step #2: Locate the nearest exit and get ready to escape through it when needed. Have your back positioned towards the exit while you use the extinguisher and have anyone in the area exit the building.

Step #2: Locate the nearest fire extinguisher. This could be hanging on a wall mount, inside a wall case, sitting on the hallway floor, above in a cabinet, atop a refrigerator, or sitting in a room corner.

Step #3: Use the breaker bar or hammer to crack the tempered glass to get to the extinguisher in a wall cabinet. If there is a non-removable breakable handle, then pull that instead and open the case.

Step #4: Pull the safety pin and grip the extinguisher around the base. Break the zip tie if there is one.

Step #5: Hold the nozzle or hose pointing away from you and towards the fire.

Step #6: Aim low and towards the base of the fire where the enflamed material is. Do not aim only at the flames.

Step #7: With one hand squeeze the trigger, lever, or two levers together and firmly and slowly to disperse the fire agent. Release then squeeze the trigger again to give yourself more control. Do not squeeze the lever(s) and release the extinguisher all at once. Allow yourself to adjust the spray in bursts as the fire goes out. This will also help you keep the fire from spreading and re-igniting.

Step #8: Sweep the extinguisher side to side and spray the fire while it goes out. Decrease your distance to the fire as it recedes.

Step #9: When the fire is out, release the levers and this will stop the fire extinguisher spray. Make sure all the embers are out before you do this.

Step #10: Replace the spent fire extinguisher or throw it out (or recycle it). This will prevent some else from trying to use it during another fire emergency.

While considering these steps, remember the PASS technique (see above) for using a fire extinguisher to put out a fire.

How Do You Hold a Fire Extinguisher?

Always hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you, as you don’t want to get sprayed by the agent. Do not grip the squeeze handle as this could expend the extinguisher all at once.

You want to grip the fire extinguisher around the sides and base. Do not put your hand or fingers in front of the spray nozzle.

Many extinguishers have nozzle hoses that you should hold with one hand to direct the spray. The other hand can be placed on the top levers to control the spray output.

Extinguishers without a hose can be held with one hand on the side or base area while the other is used to squeeze the trigger.

Warning: Carbon dioxide extinguishers get very cold at the discharge area (except the levers), so keep your hand away from this.

Where Do I Start the Fire Extinguisher?

Start by following the initial steps to using a fire extinguisher in case of a fire. Remember to aim it away from you and towards the base of the fire where the material is burning. Spraying the flames only will have a limited effect. Spray the extinguisher sweeping to side covering mainly the fire source.

Store a fire extinguisher in a place that makes it easy to access in case of a fire emergency. Do not bury it under other materials (boxes, trash, clothing, etc.) so its hard to find. Recommended places include above a refrigerator (unless you cannot reach it), in a corner of a room, hanging on a wall mount in a hallway, sitting on a counter top or dresser, or under a desk. Make sure others know where the extinguisher is in case they need it.

Where Do You Aim a Fire Extinguisher?

Aim the fire extinguisher low and towards the base of the flames. This is where the fire’s fuel source material is. Spraying the flames only will not do much good as the agent will disperse in the air and the sources of the flames will continue burning. Stand approximately 8 to 12 feet away from the fire and get closer as it recedes.

Do not aim at:

  • Furniture (unless on fire)
  • Walls (unless on fire)
  • The ceiling (unless on fire)
  • Other people (unless on fire)
  • Pets (unless on fire)
  • Water sources (pools, sinks, wells, drinking fountains, etc.)

Do not aim the extinguisher at other people unless they themselves are on fire.

You do not want to cause any more damage to your house or belongings than necessary. However, sometimes this cannot be avoided. If the walls or ceiling are on fire, it may be best to just exit the building and not stay to fight the fire.

A fire extinguisher is best used for small manageable fires in their early stages. Once a fire progresses and becomes larger, evacuate the area or building and close all the doors to limit oxygen to the fire. Leave the facility after the extinguisher is spent. Make sure the fire department has been called and everyone is evacuated.

Why Do You Sweep the Fire Extinguisher From Side To Side?

Sweep the nozzle or hose side to side to make sure you cover the entire base of the fire and other embers. As you spray the fire, embers could be blasted aside which could spread the fire. The spray nozzle also has a limited spray radius so to cover a large area requires this sweeping method. Continue the sweeping motion as you move closer to the fire while the flames decrease in size.

Fire Extinguisher Distance

Stay between 8 – 12 feet from the fire when using a fire extinguisher. You can close this distance as the fire gets under control and the flames recede. The larger and hotter the fire will require you to stand back further. A smaller fire can allow you to get closer while you aim the spray nozzle or hose at the fire’s base. Make sure no other person gets within the area of the fire while you are attempting to put it out. If two people are using extinguishers on the same fire, make sure you stay enough feet apart to not spray each other with an extinguisher agent.

How To Use a Fire Extinguisher In the Wind?

The wind will decrease the effectiveness of the fire extinguisher, especially when sprayed at the flames. Remember to only spray the base of the fire and stand closer to the fire when the wind is blowing away from you. The wind could turn directions and redirect the fire and the fire extinguisher powder towards you or others.

The wind could increase the risk of smoke or fire extinguisher agent inhalation. Also, the wind could help spread the fire faster. It is recommended to call the fire department immediately rather than stay and fight it with a fire extinguisher in windy conditions. High winds are very dangerous when it comes to spreading fires. Such a fire could easily get out of control and light other nearby homes and buildings.

How To Use a Fire Extinguisher In the Rain?

In the rain, use a fire extinguisher by following the normal steps, except perhaps stand closer to the flames. This depends on how much the rain has affected the fire.

Be careful of the fire extinguisher becoming slippery if it gets rain droplets on it so hold it tight and with the right grip.

The rain should help keep the fire down outdoors but is no guarantee to do this. This is especially true for hot fires that start from metals or chemicals where the rain may not be much help to put it out. Nearby materials or roofs may also still be dry if the rain is the first of the rainy season so a fire could easily spread in the rain, especially if it is windy.

If it is raining outdoors, and the fire is indoors, the rain will not help to put the fire out.

The rain could also affect your visibility and ability to spray the fire at the right place. This can make fighting the fire more difficult. If you wear safety or prescription glasses, they could become wet or foggy.

Rain also sometimes come with windy conditions that could make fighting the fire harder and even make it spread faster.

Rain droplets could affect the chemical powder as well. The water could make the spray force less effective and create chemical agent runoff.

How To Use a Fire Extinguisher In the Snow?

You can use a fire extinguisher in an area covered in snow or in snowy conditions. The extinguisher may get very cold and be hard to hold with bare hands. Wear gloves if possible, but not mittens as this makes it more difficult to hold on to the extinguisher.

Extremely cold conditions could render a water mist extinguisher useless. Check the labeling to make sure it’s capable of withstanding the cold. A dry powder extinguisher should be able to stay functional normally even in cold conditions.

The chemical powder will stick to the snow and coat it, so removing it from the area requires shoveling or scraping it from the ice-covered ground.

Snowy conditions could disrupt the fire extinguishers’ spray and their ability to cover an area. Visibility could also be limited by snowfall and wind. It is important to also keep your feet as firmly planted as possible because ice could make it easier to slip and fall.

How To Use a Fire Extinguisher Indoors?

Follow the general fire extinguisher usage guidelines (see above) and make sure the fire is fully put. Call the fire department before, during, and even after the event to make sure the fire is fully out and will not reignite. If you cannot get the fire put out using a fire extinguisher, it may be best to get out of the building as fast as you can to avoid burns and smoke inhalation. Close any doors and windows behind you as you leave the facility.

If you use a fire extinguisher that is designed for Class A, B, and C fires, then it should be suited for indoor use in a home or office building.

Other Important Fire Extinguisher Steps

#1 Sound the Fire Alarm

Sound the fire alarm and notify the local fire department, should possible. Identify a suitable evacuation route before even approaching the fire. Always select the right kind of fire extinguisher for the job. This should be purchased beforehand and ready to use in the vicinity.

#2 Call the Fire Department

This step cannot be more important as even a small fire can quickly become unmanageable by one person using a fire extinguisher. Even if the fire is fully extinguished by the fire extinguisher, there could be electrical wiring or gas disruptions that could cause it to restart. Always contact the local fire department to inspect the situation before, during, or after the event.

#3 The Fire May Not Be Fully Extinguished

Be careful when inspecting a former fire location yourself as a possible explosion or flame-out event could occur. Remove any flammable debris from the burned area as well.

#4 Quickly Leave the Premises

It may be best to simply get out of the building or house and leave the fire fighting to the fire department. Putting yourself at risk to try and put out a large fire with a fire extinguisher may not be the safest bet. Fire extinguishers are meant for small manageable fires that you can put out quickly, or at least to put down enough to get out of the building safely.

Always use fire extinguishers and equipment that is designed according to the latest fire safety standards. So, before using a fire extinguisher always ensure that it is certified and can be used safely. Practice these fire extinguisher use steps before a fire breaks out so you are prepared. There is no substitute for preparation in the case of fire risk.

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Nick Klamecki, Author
About Nick Klamecki, Author

Nick Klamecki is a certified Fire and Workplace Safety expert with 15 years experience in product research and testing. He has a degree from U.C. Davis, is an active outdoorsman and spent years ensuring the safety of special needs children. Nick researches and tests workplace, industrial and safety products and provides advice on their safe use. Learn more about Nick here or connect with him on LinkedIn | Medium