Anyone who may be required to utilise firefighting equipment should be trained in its operation as well as fundamental firefighting tactics. It is also critical to use the correct type of extinguisher for the fire.
Choosing the incorrect type of extinguisher might have fatal consequences. Using a water extinguisher in an area where there is electricity can result in electrocution. Some water spray and mist extinguishers are safe to use on electrical equipment. Approved extinguishers will be labelled “Approved to 35 kV dielectric test” on the body of the extinguisher. This indicates they have been tested up to 35,000 Volts at one metre. Water spray and mist extinguishers do not conduct electricity because, unlike water jet extinguishers, there is no continuous path available.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) and dry powder extinguishers prevent oxygen from reaching the fire and extinguish it, but they do not cool the burning material as well as water, thus if the powder is blown away, the fire might re-ignite.
Although foam extinguishers are generally intended for use on Class B flames, they are equally effective on Class A fires due to their water-based composition. Foam spray extinguishers also carry dielectric test approval.
Using a fire extinguisher
People who have not been trained should not use fire extinguishers. Before using a fire extinguisher to put out a fire, ensure you or someone else has sounded the fire alarm and that you have a safe path to evacuate.
With the help of the correct type of fire extinguisher, use the four-step PASS method to put out the fire:
- Pull: Pull the pin to break the tamper seal.
- Aim: Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire. Do not touch the horn on a CO2 extinguisher, as it will be very cold and can cause damage to the skin.
- Squeeze: Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
- Sweep: Sweep from side to side whilst continuing to aim low until the fire is out.
Many people can safely put out small fires. However, battling a fire that is beyond your capabilities can result in death or serious harm. Be sure to only target a fire in its early stages, and always prioritise your own and other people’s safety.
If you are unable to extinguish the fire or if the extinguisher runs out, immediately evacuate yourself and everyone else in the building, locking all doors behind you as you go, and phone the fire brigade.