Project Guide

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

How to Fight a Fire with PASS
Four steps to using the PASS method with a fire extinguisher.

PASS is an acronym to help you remember four important steps in fighting a fire.

  • P stands for pull the pin on the fire extinguisher. This will also break the tamper seal, a small device that prevents the pin from coming out accidentally.
  • A stands for aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire. Keep a safe distance away. 
  • S stands for squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing materials.
  • S also stands for sweep the nozzle from side to side. Keep aiming at the base of the fire until it's out, and repeat steps two through four if it starts up again.

Types of Fire Extinguishers
A picture of four types of fire extinguishers, A, B, C and ABC.

Once you learn how to use a fire extinguisher, you'll want to find the best one for your needs. The three most common kinds use air-pressurized water, carbon dioxide extinguisher and dry chemicals.

An air-pressurized water extinguisher, labeled type A, will put out fires in paper, wood, rubber, cloth and many plastics. 

A carbon dioxide or CO2 extinguisher, labeled type B, will control fires that start in a flammable liquid, such as grease, a solvent, oil, gasoline, lacquer, some kinds of paints and other materials.

A C or dry chemical extinguisher is needed for electrical fires, like those that begin in wiring, computers and fuse boxes.

A multi-purpose, or ABC extinguisher, can be used in place of any one of these individual extinguishers.

Fires that start from flammable metals, shavings, powders or flakes require a fire extinguisher labeled D.

Type K extinguishers are recommended for commercial kitchens, where fires can begin in commercial cooking elements such as oils, lard and grease. An ABC extinguisher may be able to smother a small grease fire in your home kitchen, but it could damage your stove. If the fire is small enough, and you can do so safely, first try putting a pot lid over it to cut the oxygen.

Use only the recommended extinguisher for each kind of fire. Using the wrong one can increase the danger. For example, using an air-pressurized water extinguisher on a flammable liquid fire can spread the flames. Used on an electrical fire, a water extinguisher may lead to  electrocution. 

Fire Extinguisher Safety Tips
Image that reads, check your fire extinguisher gauge every month.

Before you need to use it, read the use and maintenance instructions that come with your fire extinguisher. Know how far it will discharge its contents. The range is usually from six to 20 feet. 

Fire safety experts recommend keeping fire extinguishers in different parts of your home, including your kitchen, garage, in each bedroom and near your outdoor grill.

When shopping for a extinguisher, make sure it’s not too heavy to handle. On the other hand, choose a one with enough capacity to put out a small fire.

Keep at least one primary fire extinguisher on every level of your residence or business. Buy another one if your residence or business has special hazards around or you simply want more protection. 

Keep an extinguisher within forty feet, so you don’t have to go far to get it, but out of the reach of small children. Place it near an open exit, and don’t let anything get between you and that exit, including smoke, flames, heat or burning or smoldering materials. 

Always keep your back to the fire. 

Have a fire escape plan for your home or business and make sure everyone understands it.

Check your fire extinguisher gauge every month to be sure it’s fully charged and ready to use. Replace your fire extinguisher every seven years.

Replace your fire extinguisher every seven years.

What to Do in Case of Fire
A picture reading, "Install a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm."

Sound the fire alarm, if you’re in a building that has one, and/or call 911 if you can do so safely. Otherwise, leave immediately and call the fire department from a safe location.

Don't try to fight the fire unless your extinguisher is fully charged and pressurized. The needle on the gauage should be in the green zone.

Leave immediately if the room fills with smoke, or if the extinguisher empties before the fire is out.

Still not confident about how to use a fire extinguisher? Ask your local fire department if they offer training on how to use a fire extinguisher.

Install Smoke Alarms to Help Prevent Fires
An image of a ceiling smoke alarm that reads, "Replace your smoke alarm every ten years."

Smoke alarms can alert you when a fire breaks out, giving you precious time to escape or control the fire while it’s in an early, manageable stage. Install a smoke alarm inside each bedroom of your home. For extra safety, install a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm on every level of your residence or workplace.

Wireless smoke alarms are available with batteries that can last up to 10 years. An alert sounds when it’s time to replace the unit. Some can also be connected to smoke alarms in other parts of your home or garage. 

To avoid false alarms, keep smoke alarms 10 feet away from the stove.

Push the test button on the smoke alarm every 30 days to be sure it’s still working properly and replace the entire alarm every ten years or when needed. 

If your smoke alarms use batteries, replace the batteries at least once a year, even if they are still working.