Knowing how to act fast with a fire extinguisher is crucial in an emergency. Learning how to use a fire extinguisher can help you keep a cool head in a blaze and save property and lives.
A recent survey showed that 93% of all fires in the UK are put out using fire extinguishers. But only half of the people surveyed knew how to use a fire extinguisher correctly. We’ve written this short guide on fire extinguishers to help you maintain optimum fire safety at work. Remember, you mustn’t ever use an extinguisher unless you’re adequately trained.
The Importance of Fire Extinguishers at Work
An extinguisher is an essential piece of fire safety equipment. By law, every UK business must have fire extinguishers on the premises and keep them in good order. This is mandated by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety Order) 2005 (RRO). But it’s no good having a fire extinguisher close by if you’ve got no idea how to use it!
Only 52% of people surveyed knew the right way to use an extinguisher, according to the 2021 Fire Extinguisher Use Survey. If you’re in an emergency, knowing how to use it could save your business or someone’s life.
Understanding Fire Extinguisher Types
There are different types of fire extinguishers for different kinds of fires. Knowing what it is to use can mean the difference between quickly putting out a small fire or turning a minor fire into a major blaze.
There are five different types of fire extinguishers:
- Dry powder
- Wet chemical
How to Use a Fire Extinguisher – General Technique
If a fire broke out, you might imagine putting it out with an extinguisher would be easy. But, in an emergency, inappropriate fire extinguisher techniques could worsen a fire and risk your business and people’s lives.
To use an extinguisher correctly, experts recommend ensuring a clear escape route. Stand back safely from the flames with your back towards your exit. Then follow the PASS technique when discharging it:
- Pull – Pull out the safety pin to ready the fire extinguisher
- Aim – Aim at the base of the flames
- Squeeze – Squeeze the trigger firmly, evenly and slowly
- Sweep – Sweep the spray from side to side across the base of the flames
As well as having the correct technique, you need to know exactly what type of extinguisher can be used on the fire you’re fighting.
Using a Water Fire Extinguisher
Water extinguishers are used for Class A fires involving organic materials like wood. Never use a water fire extinguisher on an electrical fire or a fire containing fats, oils, flammable liquids, or gas. it has a bright red label.
To use a water fire extinguisher, ensure no live electrical equipment is nearby. Hold the extinguisher in an upright position and follow the PASS technique. Ensure you fully discharge the fire extinguisher, even if the fire has been put out. Fires involving organic materials can often reignite from embers.
Using a Foam Fire Extinguisher
Foam extinguishers have cream labels and are used for Class A and Class B fires. These are organic material fires as well as fires that contain flammable liquids. Never use foam fire extinguishers for fires involving electrical equipment, oils, fats, or flammable metals.
As with a water fire extinguisher, ensure there is no live electrical equipment in the area. Be careful of any flowing liquids that could cause the fire to spread.
If the fire is a contained liquid fire, start at the side of the fire and sweep the nozzle across the base. Aim slightly higher if you’re dealing with an uncontained liquid fire and allow the foam to drop onto the fire. Spread the foam with a sweeping motion. For non-liquid fires, follow the usual PASS technique. Again, discharge the it and watch that the fire doesn’t reignite.
Using a CO2 Fire Extinguisher
A CO2 fire extinguisher will have a black label. They are used for electrical fires (Class E fires) and some Class B fires, flammable liquid fires involving paint, petrol or diesel. Never use a CO2 fire extinguisher for fires that involve flammable metals, oils, fats or organic materials.
When using a CO2 extinguisher, never put your hands directly on the horn of the extinguisher. You run the risk of getting a freeze burn if you do.
For Class E electrical fires, turn off the electricity, if possible. Point the discharge horn at the fire and or at the equipment vents.
For Class B fires, use the PASS method. Discharge the CO2 extinguisher until it’s empty, and watch for signs of recognition. Don’t put a CO2 fire extinguisher down in a puddle of liquid, as it will freeze the liquid and you won’t be able to move it.
Using a Wet Chemical Fire Extinguisher
A wet chemical fire extinguisher will have a yellow label and is for Class A and Class F fires.
These are any fire that involves organic materials, cooking oils, or fat, so these extinguishers are usually used for kitchen fires. Never use a wet chemical extinguisher on any fire involving flammable metals, liquids or gases. Wet chemical fire extinguishers should also never be used on electrical fires.
Watch out for any flowing liquids and electrical equipment. The wet chemical extinguisher will fire a fine mist that creates a soapy film over the fire. Use the PASS method to discharge the wet chemical extinguisher until it’s empty and watch for signs of recognition.
Using a Dry Powder Fire Extinguisher
A dry powder fire extinguisher will have a light blue label and are used on Class A, B, C, D and E fires. So, any fires involving organic material, flammable liquids, flammable metals or electrical equipment. Never use a dry powder extinguisher on fires that include oils or fats or for any fire in an enclosed space.
Follow the usual PASS procedure when using a dry powder fire extinguisher. If you’re dealing with an uncontained liquid fire, be aware that although the powder could put out the fire quickly, there is a good chance of it reigniting. Dry powder extinguishers can cause respiratory issues, so they aren’t recommended for indoor environments unless a risk assessment has been completed.
Best Practices for Fire Extinguishers
- Never use a fire extinguisher on any fire that involves escaping gases
- Only ever use an extinguisher in the early stages of a fire
- Only use an extinguisher when it is safe to do so
- Always use the correct type of extinguisher
- Make sure you always read the operating instructions
- Be sure your extinguisher is still within its expiration date
- Be sure your extinguisher’s pressure needle is still in the green zone
- Make sure all your staff know where an extinguishers are located
- Put up an infographic about how to use a fire extinguisher
- Provide fire extinguisher training for your team
Where to Find Fire Extinguisher Training
Completing fire extinguisher training will give you and your people invaluable fire safety skills. You can learn exactly what extinguisher to use and how to use an extinguisher correctly in an emergency.
Our Fire Extinguisher Training course will teach you everything you and your staff need to know about using an extinguisher. This fire safety course is accredited and can be taken online whenever it suits you.