Most people walk by one every day, they might even have one in their own house, chances are you have never used one or know anything about it. What am I talking about? A Fire Extinguisher of course, and they are everywhere and knowing how to use one could save a life. I am a firefighter and have been one for the better part of fifteen years now. I have been at different fires that after they were extinguished and smoke cleared, I would look around at all the damage, and sure enough you would see an unused little red fire extinguisher. When asked why the extinguisher went unused, the resident usually says something like “I don't know how to use that thing” or “I never even thought about it". This is somewhat hard to hear in my profession because with just a little education on how to use a fire extinguisher they could have prevented most of the damage done, or even extinguish the fire before the local Fire Departments even arrives.
Step 1: Safety Concerns
Before we get started with this demonstration, there are a few safety concerns that need to be addressed, so you know the risks that are involved if you have to use one on an actual fire. Using a fire extinguisher to extinguish a fire can be a dangerous task to accomplish; there is always the possibility of getting burned, seriously injured or even death. Fire extinguishers are only recommended for fires that are small in size, such as a wastepaper basket or pan on the stove. Most people do not know that “A well-vented average fire load will approximately double in size every 60 seconds where adequate amounts of fuel and oxygen (air) become available”. (www.firetatics.com )Knowing this piece of information you can see that if a fire is left free burning until the local fire department shows up, the damage could be catastrophic or fatal. My hope is that you can take what you learn from this presentation and put it to good use someday, if you need to. The basic home fire extinguisher is designed to be used by a non-professional person on a fire in the first of the 4 stages, or otherwise known as the incipient phase. While the fires is in this stage it is also where you have the best chance to either escape the building or extinguish the fire. Once the fire grows bigger and moves into the next phase you will not be able to use a fire extinguisher to put out a fire.
Step 2: Things You Will Need
1. Fire Extinguisher.
2. Rubber Mallet.
3. Small container for soap water.
4. Dish Soap.
There are not many things you will need to complete this instructable. If you do not own a fire extinguisher you can purchase one at a local Big Box store (I.e. Home Depot, Lowes, Menards.) or your local hardware store.
Step 3: Different Parts of the Fire Extinguisher
I will start with the pin, it can range anywhere from 1-3 inches in length and could be either metal or plastic with a finger hole on one end. This piece is used to help prevent the extinguisher from accidentally going off. The pin is on the left side of the fire extinguisher when the hose and nozzle are pointed directly away from you.
Step 4: Parts Continued: Hose and Nozzle
The next piece is the hose and nozzle end of the extinguisher. This is the part that will be used to direct the extinguishing agent towards the intended target. You will find that some of the smaller extinguishers do not come with a hose, that size only has a small nozzle that is attached to the valve assembly piece. The hose may come in different sizes and lengths, commonly black in color and anywhere from 12 – 24 inches in length depending on the size of the extinguisher and type.
Step 5: Part Continued: Valve Assembly
The third piece is the valve assembly. This is what triggers the extinguishing agent to be discharged from the cylinder. It is located at the top of the cylinder and has two handles that are in the shape of a sideways V, these can be either plastic or metal handles. The bottom part of the handle will move up when you pull the pin, but it only moves to a solid position so it can be carried. The top part of the V is movable and this is the piece that acts as a trigger for discharging the agent. After you pull the pin and apply a downward force bringing the two pieces close together it will then discharge the fire extinguisher agent.
Step 6: Parts Continued: the Pressure Gauge
The valve assembly has a cylinder pressure gauge attached to it showing you the pressure inside the extinguisher. It is approximately 1 inch in diameter with a needle to show the pressure. There are two different colors shown on the gauge, two red areas and one green area. The green area is located on the top, middle section of the gauge; the needle should be located in this area. The needle in the green area indicates to the user that the fire extinguisher is under the correct pressure. If you notice that the needle is in the red area the fire extinguisher needs to be removed because it does not have the correct pressure to discharge the material properly, potentially putting the user in harm’s way.
Step 7: Parts Continued: the Cylinder
The fourth piece is the cylinder itself. There are a number of different sizes, weights, and chemicals you can purchase for your home. Always make sure you have the correct fire extinguisher for what you will be extinguishing with it, only you can determine the type of fire extinguisher you will mostly likely need. These fire extinguishers can range for 1 pound to 30 pounds. On the extinguisher there is an instruction label indicating what type of fires the fire extinguisher is recommended for. The type of extinguisher I am showing, will put out an A, B or C class fire. There are 5 different classes of fire extinguishers that can be purchased. Class A fires are wood/paper & cloth, Class B fires are flammable liquids, Class C are electrical, Class D are combustible metals and Class K are Kitchen (like commercial hoods and fryers). On the cylinder label you will be able to find the different class/classes of fires it can be used to put out and the size of fire it is recommended for. The label also will state the company’s recommended distance you should be away from the fire for discharging the extinguisher, along with the manufacturers recommended technique of use. There is also a date of when the extinguisher was assembled, safety instructions and warning labels.
Step 8: The Method: PASS
Now that you know the parts of a fire extinguisher and some safety concerns, the next step is how to deploy the fire extinguisher. There is a simple acronym that is used to help remember the steps for a proper deployment. It is P.A.S.S., this stands for pull, aim, sweep, and squeeze. The first step is Pull; locate the pin on the valve assembly, it is on the left side, it looks like the pin on a hand grenade; it is either metal or plastic and could have a tamper seal. Once you have located the pin you can pull it straight out and discard it. The next step is A for aim; once you have located the fire and pulled the pin you will need to aim the fire extinguisher. What you are aiming for is the base of the fire, for example, if a pan on the stove is on fire aim at the food or liquid that is on fire in the pan or the lowest point that is on fire. The First S stands for sweep; after you have located the fire, pulled the pin and you have properly aimed with nozzle you will start moving the nozzle with a back and forth motion just wider than the size of the fire. The final S is for Squeeze; after you have completed the previous step you will squeeze the handles together, just a little piece of advice, make sure you are ready for this because there will be a little force behind it and can take you by surprise. It is recommended that if you have to use a fire extinguisher you use the entire extinguishing agent on the fire. These are all the steps you need to remember to properly use a fire extinguisher.
Step 9: Cleaning and Maintenance
When performing maintenance on the fire extinguisher you will want to make sure to handle it with care, and in an area that is well ventilated, such as outside. This is a precautionary measure, just in case of an accidental discharge. If there was a discharge of agent, entirely or partial, make sure to either get the fire extinguisher recharged or buy a new one, because they are a one time use only.
An inspection will need to be performed at least once every year, you will need to start off by holding up the extinguisher and giving it a good visual inspection, look all around the outside working your way from the top to the bottom. You will be looking for any cracks, bulges, dents or rust. If you find any of the following issues make sure to have it inspected by a professional company or replaced with a new extinguisher.
Once the visual inspection is complete, move on to the gauge, making sure that the needle is in the green. If the needle is not in the green and it is in the red, this will give you the indication that there is not have enough pressure, or it has too much pressure and will not discharge properly. The next process will be sure to make sure the tamper seal is still attached; if it is missing you need to replace it. The reason for the tamper seal is to hold the pin in place. The pin acts like a safety for the fire extinguisher with keeping the top from being able to move. If the pin is removed or missing you can have an accidental discharge of the fire extinguisher. Next we will be moving on to the hose, if your fire extinguisher is equipped with one. When looking over the hose and nozzle take note of any deformity, dry rot, or cracks. If you can remove that nozzle from the valve assembly and look down the middle of the tube checking to make sure it is clear of obstructions. After the hose and nozzle are inspected make sure to put them back on the fire extinguisher properly. Check the neck of the bottle, this is where the valve assembly and the cylinder are connected. Look to make sure there are no cracks, damage, or threads seen.
Once you have completed the visual inspection on the fire extinguished and have reassembled it correctly; turn the fire extinguisher upside down and grab your rubber mallet and hit the bottom a few times, then go around the bottom outside of the cylinder and tap the fire extinguisher more with the rubber mallet. Why you ask? The reason for doing this is to break up a the dry chemical powder so the it does not settle and compress on the bottom of the cylinder. If it sits to long without being broken up it can become hard and clumped up not allowing the proper distribution of the chemical on the fire.
Now that the inspection has been completed and no discrepancies are noted, you will move on to the cleaning of the fire extinguisher. Take some warm soapy water and give the fire extinguisher a good cleaning making sure to clean the grease and dust off of it. Once it is clean, dry it off and put it back to where you store it. As a side note if the fire extinguisher has excessive grease or dirt built up on it you may want to wash it first then perform the inspection to help you see if any damage. Also always follow that manufactures recommended guidelines for cleaning and maintenance procedures.
Step 10: Things to Remember
When trying to find a good place to store the fire extinguisher, try to place the fire extinguisher so that it is close to an exit, in areas that are well traveled and that are easily accessible for everyone to get to.
There are a few extra things that need to be addressed to help with your safety and help you make sure you put yourself in a place of the least amount of danger when deploying a fire extinguisher. If you feel the fire is too big to put out with the fire extinguisher please do not try it! Just exit the structure and call 911 while leaving the building, making sure to never reenter the building once you have made it out safely.
When a fire presents itself and you have access to a fire extinguisher you need to make sure that you always position yourself with an exit to your back, so that if the fire extinguisher does not completely put the fire out or has a malfunction you have an exit that you can walk out of the building. When deploying the fire extinguisher make sure to use the entire agent. Once you have deployed the agent try not to inhale the agent or the smoke from the fire, set the extinguisher down and back out of the room and call 911.