Fire Prevention 52: Fire Extinguishers 101

outlet fire, fire extinguisher, and house fire

The top three misconceptions about fire extinguishers can be quite dangerous and could lead to fatal mistakes. Let's take a look:

1. Fire extinguishers are all the same.

Even if all canisters look alike, the contents and purpose of the extinguishers are not. Take the time to research what type of extinguisher you have at home or near your workstation. Using a water-based fire extinguisher for a stove-top grease fire could have fatal consequences.

2. Once installed fire extinguishers can be ignored.

To be effective, fire extinguishers must be maintained. The best way to determine if maintenance is required is by conducting monthly inspections as required by NFPA Chapter 10, section 6.2.1.

3. Fire extinguishers can be put anywhere.

Although most units are small enough to fit in nearly any size cabinet, will you be able to find the fire extinguisher in an emergency? For convenience and safety purposes, fire extinguishers should be installed on a wall near the fire exit. This way they can be easily grabbed and the person using the extinguisher can go out the same exit if the fire proves to be unconquerable.

As a whole, fire extinguishers are simple to use--just remember the acronym "PASS":

P - Pull the pin (this should be located near the squeeze trigger);
A - Aim the nozzle of the fire extinguisher for the base of the fire;
S - Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent;
S - Sweep the discharging agent side to side to cover as much ground as you can.

While fire extinguishers are readily available and simple to use, most fires have to be extinguished within the first three minutes of inception for a home or office to be saved, because a fire will double in size every minute. In other words, if a fire starts, it must be knocked down almost immediately. Furthermore, the use of a fire extinguisher needs to be part of sound decision making that includes alerting other people in the building of the fire, performing an evacuation, activating the fire alarm, and notifying the local fire department.

If upon using a fire extinguisher you notice that the fire is growing in size or has not been extinguished when the fire extinguisher is empty, drop the extinguisher and immediately exit the building. More than anything, you should be responsible for your safety and your life.

Fire Info for You

The use of a fire extinguisher in the hands of a trained adult can be a life- and property-saving tool.

Park Leadership

National/Regional Leadership

  • Having fire extinguishers that fail to perform may open park managers and management to potential lawsuits. Read about a fire event in which four college students from the Mississippi University for Women died. One of the claims filed by the families who lost loved ones was directed at the hotel when it was found that one of the provided fire extinguishers failed to work.
  • In another case the mother of a 22-month-old who died in an apartment fire filed a lawsuit against the owners of the building, alleging that they were negligent because they failed to provide adequate means to extinguish a fire in the building, failed to provide sufficient means of alerting people to the fire, and failed to provide a safe way to escape from the second and third floors of the building in case of a fire.

Take Action

  1. Find your closest fire extinguisher. What type of fire is it designed to extinguish?
  2. When was the last time it was inspected? If it has been more than a month, let your supervisor know.
  3. Does it look like the fire extinguisher will work?
    • If it has a gauge, is it in the green?
    • Is it in a place with easy access?
    • Is it in good shape without signs of damage such as rust, dents, or parts missing?
    • If not, it is not going to do any good in event of a fire, so tell your supervisor!
  4. Do you know how to use a fire extinguisher? If not, ask your supervisor!

NPS Fire Facts

Did you know?
Failure to perform monthly fire extinguisher inspections is one of the most common OSHA violations documented in the National Park Service.

Last updated: October 19, 2016