How to properly use a fire extinguisher

37.8 million Kidde fire extinguishers have been recalled (CBS News)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Fire extinguishers have been in the news lately.

The massive recall of nearly 40-million Kidde fire extinguishers serves a reminder that before you ever need a fire extinguisher — you need to know how to use it safely.

When a fire breaks out and you’re in a situation where you are forced to use a portable extinguisher, you can’t be fumbling around for an instruction manual.

You need you know how it works and what it can and can’t do.

You also have to make sure the unit you are using is the right kind for the fire you are trying to fight.

The Apex Fire Department offers courses on how to properly use an extinguisher in the safest way.

As reporter Steve Sbraccia learned when the Apex Fire Department trained him, you go for the source of the fire.

“You want to spray it low at the base of the flames, not at the smoke or the flames themselves,” said Deputy Apex Fire Marshall David Dillon. “You want to spray the fuel feeding the fire.”

Fire Extinguishers are divided into three basic types.

  • “A” is for combustibles liked paper, wood and  cloth
  • “B” is for burning oils or grease
  • “C” is for electrical fires.

Your best bet is to get a combination extinguisher which can deal with A, B or C type fires.

But, before you grab it and go running off to the fight fire, there’s a few things you need to know.

Local fire departments like Apex will show you that you how to sweep the extinguisher back and forth across the seat of the fire and how far back to stand from the flames.

The department will also offer training to show you the limits of your extinguisher and explain when you should fight the flames or flee from them.

“A trained person can put out 40 percent more fire than an untrained person,” says Dillion.

That means even a small fire extinguisher can be effective if it’s in the right hands.

You also need to check your extinguisher periodically. Make sure the gauge indicates it’s full not discharged.

Extinguishers work best on small fires that have just begun. If the fire is too large, you risk injuring yourself if you go after it even if you have a full extinguisher.

“Remember, small extinguisher – small fire,” says Dillon.

Fire officials recommend remembering the acronym P.A.S.S. when using a fire extinguisher. It stands for:

Pull the pin to release the handle

Aim low—at the base of the fire

Squeeze the handle

Sweep the nozzle from side to side

Even if you’re successful with an extinguisher in dousing the flames, the fire department still needs to be called to check the situation, because Dillon says fires can smolder or rekindle.


Here is a link to the U.S. Department of Labor site that details which extinguisher is best for different situations.

And here are the U.S. Fire Administration’s safety tips for using an extinguisher:

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