Consider the following three questions before
purchasing or using a fire extinguisher to control a
1. What type of fire extinguisher is
Different types of fires require different types
of extinguishers. For example, a grease fire and an
electrical fire require the use of different
extinguishing agents to be effective and safely put
the fire out.
Basically, there are five different types of
extinguishing agents. Most fire extinguishers
display symbols to show the kind of fire on which
they are to be used.
Types of Fire
||Class A extinguishers put out fires
in ordinary combustible materials such
as cloth, wood, rubber, paper, and many
||Class B extinguishers are used on
fires involving flammable liquids, such
as grease, gasoline, oil, and oil-based
||Class C extinguishers are suitable
for use on fires involving appliances,
tools, or other equipment that is
electrically energized or plugged in.
||Class D extinguishers are designed
for use on flammable metals and are
often specific for the type of metal in
question. These are typically found only
in factories working with these metals.
||Class K fire extinguishers are
intended for use on fires that involve
vegetable oils, animal oils, or fats in
cooking appliances. These extinguishers
are generally found in commercial
kitchens, such as those found in
restaurants, cafeterias, and caterers.
Class K extinguishers are now finding
their way into the residential market
for use in kitchens.
There are also multi-purpose fire extinguishers -
such as those labeled "B-C" or "A-B-C" - that can be
used on two or more of the above type fires.
2. Is the fire at a point where it might still
be controlled by a fire extinguisher?
Portable fire extinguishers are valuable for
immediate use on small fires. They contain a limited
amount of extinguishing material and need to be
properly used so that this material is not wasted.
For example, when a pan initially catches fire, it
may be safe to turn off the burner, place a lid on
the pan, and use an extinguisher. By the time the
fire has spread, however, these actions will not be
adequate. Only trained firefighters can
safely extinguish such fires.
Use a fire extinguisher only if:
- You have alerted other occupants and someone
has called the fire department;
- The fire is small and contained to a single
object, such as a wastebasket;
- You are safe from the toxic smoke produced
by the fire;
- You have a means of escape identified and
the fire is not between you and the escape
- Your instincts tell you that it is safe to
use an extinguisher.
If all of these conditions are not
present, you should NOT try to use a fire
extinguisher. Alert other occupants, leave the
building following your
home escape plan, go to the agreed upon meeting
place, and call the fire department from a cell
phone or a neighbor's home.
3. Am I physically capable of using the
Some people have physical limitations that might
diminish or eliminate their ability to properly use
a fire extinguisher. People with disabilities, older
adults, or children may find that an extinguisher is
too heavy to handle or it may be too difficult for
them to exert the necessary pressure to operate the
Fire extinguishers need to be regularly checked
to ensure that:
- The extinguisher is not blocked by
furniture, doorways, or any thing that might
limit access in an emergency.
- The pressure is at the recommended level.
Some extinguishers have gauges that indicate
when the pressure is too high or too low.
- All parts are operable and not damaged or
restricted in any way. Make sure hoses and
nozzles are free of insects or debris. There
should not be any signs of damage or abuse, such
as dents or rust, on the extinguisher.
- The outside of the extinguisher is clean.
Remove any oil or grease that might accumulate
on the exterior.
- Shake dry chemical extinguishers once a
month to prevent the powder from settling or
packing. Check the manufacturer's
- Pressure test the extinguisher (a process
called hydrostatic testing) after a number of
years to ensure that the cylinder is safe to
use. Find out from the owner's manual, the
label, or the manufacturer when an extinguisher
may need this type of testing.
- Immediately replace the extinguisher if it
needs recharging or is damaged in any way.
Sound Decision Making. Training. Maintenance.
All are required to safely control a fire with an
extinguisher. For this reason, USFA
recommends that only those trained in the proper use
and maintenance of fire extinguishers consider using
them when appropriate. Contact your local
fire department for information on training in your