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How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

Using a fire extinguisher is fairly simple and can be done by anyone regardless of whether or not they have been trained. All fire extinguishers operate in a similar way regardless of the extinguishing agent inside, although different methods can be used.  In this guide we aim to explain how to use a fire extinguisher.

In an emergency situation, wherever possible, the instructions for how to use a fire extinguisher should be read. Of course, this is not always possible, which is why a certain level of training in extinguisher use is recommended.

The ability to use an extinguisher can give a person precious time to escape, and also reduces the level of fire damage.

So how to use a fire extinguisher?

The basic method in the form of an acronym is the ‘PASS’ method. This is broken down into four steps.

Firstly, Pull the pin at the top of the extinguisher. This releases the lock on the canister which allows the agent to be deployed.

Secondly, Aim the extinguishing agent at the base of the fire. This is important since the easiest way to extinguish a fire is to tackle the fuel.

Then Squeeze the level on the canister slowly. This allows the extinguishing agent to be released through the nozzle of the canister. Obviously once the level is not compressed, the agent will cease to flow.

Finally, Sweep the hose of the extinguisher from side-to-side until the fire is completely extinguished. A fire extinguisher should always be operated from a safe distance away. Before leaving the fire, the user should always be confident that the fire has been put out, or professional fire-fighters have taken over.

How to Use a Fire Extinguisher

The PASS method is primarily designed for water fire extinguishers, and although this route is still useful for other extinguishing agents, some other methods are occasionally more effective. This usually depends on the extinguishing agent itself and the fuel involved in the fire.

When operating a powder fire extinguisher, the area where the nozzle is aimed at varies according to the fuel involved. For solid materials and electrical equipment (once the power has been shut off for the latter), the PASS method is adequate. For spilled liquids, the hose should be aimed at the near edge of the fire and a rapid sweeping motion used to drive the fire towards the far edge. Where the liquid is flowing, the hose should be directed at the base of the fire and swept upwards to contain the flow.

With foam fire extinguishers, for solid combustibles the PASS method is sufficient. However for flammable liquids, the extinguishing agent should not be aimed at the fire itself, but at a vertical surface near the fire. This is because the fire can be too easily encouraged to spread. Using this method means the foam can effectively smother the fire.

CO2 fire extinguisher are best deployed using the PASS method, however note that the horn should not be held during use as this becomes cold during use and can cause frost burns.

Finally, when operating a wet chemical fire extinguisher, which looks different to most other types, the fine spray of the chemical should be used in slow circular movements, which allows the agent to fall gently and reduces the chance of hot oil splashback onto the user.

Fire Evacuation Procedure

In case of an emergency, fire evacuation procedures must be considered alongside other elements of a fire emergency plan. Developing a fire evacuation procedure or plan, for either the home or the workplace, should cover various key issues that are uniquely tailored for the specific premises or area they will cover.

Although it is the responsibility of the owner or landlord of the building to create their own fire evacuation procedure, there are guidelines available to assist with this. These guidelines, produced by the Department for Communities and Local Government following the implementation of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (or the RRFSO for short), are named the Fire Safety Risk Assessment Guides and there are individual publications that focus on different working and domestic premises. These guidelines recommend that an fire emergency procedure should include many different things.

Some of the considerations to be made when developing a fire evacuation procedure include:

  • How will people be warned if there is a fire?
  • What do people do if there is a fire?
  • How will the evacuation be carried out?
  • Where will people assemble once they have left the premises?
  • How will those in charge know if and when everyone is out of the building?
  • Key escape routes should be identified, including how access will be gained and how people will reach a place of total safety
  • Fire fighting arrangements
  • The duties and identity of staff who have specific responsibilities in a fire situation
  • Arrangements for the safe evacuation of those identified as being especially at risk, such as young people, pregnant women or disabled people. These arrangements should be specific to the individual (also called a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan or PEEP)
  • Are there any machines/processes/appliances or power supplies that need to be stopped or isolated if there is a fire?
  • Are there any high fire-risk areas? (These may require specific arrangements)
  • Consider unusual situations – Is there a contingency plan in place for where fire safety systems (e.g. evacuation lifts, fire detection systems, sprinklers or smoke control systems) do not work for any reason?
  • How will the fire and rescue service or any other required service be contacted and who has that responsibility?
  • What are the procedures for meeting the fire and rescue service once they arrive on site? Who will notify them of any specific risks (e.g. location of COSHH items)

Fire Evacuation ProcedureSite drawings, including specific features related to fire, such as escape routes, refuges, lifts, fire extinguishers and so on should be included, so those occupying the premises can visualise the procedures better.

Fire evacuation procedures should be made available to anyone who may be affected by the information contained within, including visitors to the premises if applicable. Those who have specific responsibilities should also be trained in how to carry out their role effectively.

 

Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan

The aim of a Personal Emergency Evacuation Plan (a PEEP) is to provide people who are unable to get themselves out of a building unaided in an emergency situation, with the necessary information to be able or manage their escape. Since the reasons why an individual cannot escape unaided will vary greatly, it is important that a PEEP be specifically tailored to the person in question. Special aids may be required (such as a visual alarm for the hearing impaired), or assistance from another in the form of a buddy system. Those with mobility problems may require assistance using one of the many accessories available on the market, such as evacuation lifts, chairs or refuges. Any PEEP should be written in consultation with the individual themselves.

A fire evacuation procedure should be kept in a suitable place and updated on a regular basis, or more often if a facet of the environment changes (such as a new sprinkler system or building extension).

Local Fire Evacuation Procedure Rules

Fire safety rules may differ depending on where you live in the UK.  The links below provide more information specific to your place of residence:

England & Wales

Scotland

Northern Ireland

Fire Triangle – A quick guide

The fire triangle is a basic principle in understanding how a fire ignites, and how it can continue to burn. The fire triangle, also known as the triangle of combustion, is made up of three components.

These are:

  1. A combustible substance or fuel (e.g. wood, paper, plastic etc)
  2. Oxygen, as a gas (usually from the air)
  3. A source of ignition (or heat)

Fire Triangle

If all these three factors are present and the conditions are right, the substance will catch fire (meaning heat and light will be produced accompanied by volumes of smoke and gases). Unless one or more of these components are removed from the fire, it will sustain and continue to burn.

1. Fuel

Fuel consists of flammable and combustible materials that can be in any matter state. These can include:

  • Combustible solids such as wood, paper, plastic, packaging materials, soft furnishings, fabrics and some metals e.g. magnesium
  • Flammable solids in a powder form
  • Flammable liquids such as petroleum and its derivatives, paints, solvents, oils etc
  • Flammable gases such as hydrogen, LPG, methane etc

In order to remove the fuel section of the fire triangle, the fuel can either be doused by an extinguishing agent, or the fuel supply cut off, either deliberately by human hands or when the fuel supply runs out and the fire burns itself out naturally.

2. Oxygen/air

The vast majority of fires will require the presence of oxygen. There are unusual circumstances where chemical reactions that are combustion-like can be produced using materials such as chlorine, but otherwise oxygen will almost always be a part of a fire. The higher the concentration of oxygen in the air, the quicker the fire will burn.

Of course, oxygen is most commonly found in the air, however in certain workplaces there may also be additional sources such as oxygen cylinders, or oxidising agents.

The oxygen segment of the triangle is possibly the hardest to remove, since it is all around us. Oxygen can be removed from the fire by covering it, which is done through use of some types of fire extinguisher such as foam and carbon dioxide. If the fire can be contained and the oxygen level closed off, the fire can be eliminated.

3. Heat

The third section of the fire triangle can be easily overlooked. If a small amount of fuel and oxygen is heated by a certain degree, it will combust. As fires are exothermic, a small fire started by a tiny heat source is able to ignite more fuel and oxygen over and over until there is sufficient heat to establish and maintain a large fire. Heat can be provided by different sources of ignition.

Reducing the heat in a fire can be done in two ways. Firstly, by cooling through the application of water, dirt or another substance, and secondly by scattering the fuel to limit the possible effects of radiant heat.

Fire Triangle – Sources of ignition

There are many sources and this list is not exhaustive.

  • Open flame e.g. matches, welding torches etc
  • Electrical sparking sources – Spontaneous ignition
  • Grinding sparks
  • Static electricity
  • Friction
  • Hot surfaces e.g. overheating equipment
  • Sparks from electrical arcing, static discharge or metal tools
  • Lasers and other radiant heat sources
  • Some chemical reactions
  • Smoking