Most people probably remember being taught the “P.A.S.S.” system in school during fire extinguisher safety lessons: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep. It’s a good mnemonic device, but it only covers the absolute basics of handling a fire extinguisher. You might have some more questions about appropriate handling. For example, what exactly is the range of use? When should you not attempt to put out a fire? What are the different types of fire extinguishers? And is it safe to contact the material it sprays?
Let’s start with the basics. “Pull” refers to the metal pin in the handle that prevents accidental squeezing. Aiming and squeezing are straightforward. You should “sweep” along the base of the fire until there are no more glowing embers. Most fire extinguishers have a range of operation of eight to twelve feet and will last for about 10 seconds before they empty.
But before you charge into battle, when is a fire too unsafe to put out? It’s best to just get to safety and call for help if the fire has already spread from its original spot, if you can’t tell what materials are burning, if there is too much smoke, or if there are multiple extinguishers and you don’t know which to use. The flames should be below eye level and relatively contained. You should also prioritize notifying and evacuating everyone before attempting to put the fire out.
There are different types of extinguishers meant for different types of fires. For example, a Class A extinguisher may have water in it (something you don’t want to spray on a grease fire). You aren’t expected to recall the whole chart of fire types while in a panic; the time for getting that right is in placing the extinguisher. For example, kitchens should have either a class A, B, C or specifically a class B extinguisher since grease and oil fires are the most likely threat. Again, if you aren’t sure it’s the right type, you should evacuate and call for help.
Finally, is there any danger to humans or animals from fire extinguisher spray? Generally, fire extinguisher contents will only cause mild and temporary irritation with incidental contact. Some extinguishers emit simple baking soda, while others use a dry powder called monoammonium phosphate or pressurized carbon dioxide. These will generally cause only minor respiratory irritation if inhaled. Toxicity is rare, but it is possible if a large amount is inhaled while in a small and poorly ventilated area. Powders should not cause skin problems, but the carbon dioxide type is pressurized and can cause eye damage or frostbite as it comes out at an exceptionally low temperature.
It’s important to keep working fire extinguishers at your place of business. We have over 20 years of experience with the NFPA Codes and Standards. We can make assess your business for fire safety and advise you based on your needs. Call us at 407-603-3881 for more information.