Guidelines on how to use a fire extinguisher

  • Published
  • By Fire Department
  • 30th Civil Engineer Squadron
Fires can be very dangerous, and people should always be certain they will not endanger themselves or others when attempting to put out a fire.

For this reason, when a fire is discovered:

- Any person who is in immediate danger should be assisted to safety if it can be accomplished without risking the safety of others.

- Activate the building fire alarm system or notify the fire department by dialing 911 (or designating someone else to notify them). When the building fire alarm system is activated, it will automatically notify the fire department; sound the building alarms to notify other occupants; and shut down the air handling units to prevent the spread of smoke throughout the building.
Only after accomplishing these two things should someone attempt to use an extinguisher to put out a fire. Remember, to put out a fire with an extinguisher, the fire should only be the size of a small trash can. If the fire is larger than a trash can, it is best to get out and let the fire department handle it.
However, before deciding to fight the fire, keep these rules in mind:

- Know what is burning in order to figure out which extinguisher to use. Even if an universal extinguisher is available, there may be something in the fire that is going to explode or produce highly toxic smoke. It is usually easy to understand what is burning, but if it isn't, it is best to let the fire department handle the blaze.

- The fire is spreading rapidly beyond the spot where it started. The time to use an extinguisher is in the incipient or beginning stages of a fire. If the fire is already spreading quickly, it is best to simply evacuate the building, closing doors and windows on the way out.

Do not fight the fire if:

- Adequate equipment is unavailable. If the right size of extinguisher is not around, don't try to fight the fire.

- Breathing in smoke is a risk. If the fire is producing large amounts of smoke, it is best not to try. Any sort of combustion will produce some amount of carbon monoxide, but when synthetic materials, such as the nylon in carpeting or foam padding in a sofa, burn, they can produce highly toxic gases, such as hydrogen cyanide, acrolein and ammonia, in addition to carbon monoxide. These gases can be fatal in very small amounts.

- Natural instincts are saying no. If a person is uncomfortable fighting a fire, then it is best to let the fire department fight it.
If someone decides to take action, they should position themselves with an exit or means of escape at their back before they attempt to use an extinguisher to put out a fire.

Stand six to eight feet from the fire and remember the acronym PASS:

Pull the pin that unlocks the operating lever.

Aim low and point the extinguisher nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.

Squeeze the lever above the handle to discharge the extinguisher agent. To stop the discharge, release the lever.

Sweep the nozzle or hose from side to side. Keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until the flames appear to be out. Watch the fire area. If the fire re-ignites, repeat the process.

Always call 911 even if the fire is out. The fire department is the only organization that has the authority to declare a fire scene safe.

The Vandenberg Fire Department has a new fire extinguisher training simulator. For more information to receive extinguisher training, call the Risk Management Division of the Vandenberg Fire Department at 606-4680.