How to use and maintain a fire extinguisher

In order for an operator to use a fire extinguisher, they must be well versed in the following:

•Parts of a Fire Extinguisher
•Proper Location of an Extinguisher

Parts of a Fire Extinguisher

As afore mentioned in the previous article; there are different types of fire extinguishers, which are used to control various types of fires. Regardless of the class of fire and type of extinguisher used, there are two categories of extinguishers.

•Stored Pressure
•Cartridge Operated

The following diagrams will encompass these categories.

Stored Pressure (Diagram A)

Stored pressure fire extinguisher

Cartridge Operated (Diagram B)

Cartridge fire extinguisher

Stored Pressure - the extinguishing agent and expellant gas are confined within.
Cartridge Operated- the agent only is stored.

Used to grip and carry the extinguisher. Handle designs will vary depending on the make, model and weight of the extinguisher. An extinguisher with a weight of more than 3lbs is required to be equipped with a handle.

A small lever mounted above the handle. When forced down, the extinguishing agent is released through the nozzle

Found at the top of the extinguisher, the agent is expelled through a small nozzle or cone. In other models, the nozzle may be attached to a short hose.

Pressure Indicator
Found on the stored pressure type. The indicator shows the amount of pressure in the cylinder. Over time, pressure can dissipate. If the pressure is not properly maintained and becomes too low; then the extinguisher will not operate correctly. It is important to do a quick inspection of this gauge monthly.

Located on the cylinder, it displays:
•Class of Fire Extinguisher (A, B, C, D, K);
•Operating Instructions;
•Manufacture’s Name;
•Model Number.

Inspection tag
Found clipped to the neck of the cylinder, the tag keeps a record of the date of inspection and the name and signature of the inspector or fire inspection company. With the exception of home extinguishers, all businesses are required to have their fire extinguishers inspected annually.

Safety pin/Locking Mechanism
All extinguishers are equipped with some form of locking mechanism to prevent accidental discharge of the agent. In most portable extinguishers, this is a pin; that must be pulled out before the trigger can be squeezed.

Located on the Cartridge Operated extinguishers only; it is attached to the main cylinder. The cartridge contains the expellant, usually a gas, that must be punctured prior to use.

Fire extinguisher operation

As mentioned, the label on each fire extinguisher is filled with pertinent information. The most important being the class of fire with which the extinguisher can be used. This is a crucial piece of information because if the extinguisher is used on a class of fire not specified by the label, there can be serious repercussions. For example, if the flame is a Class C fire (caused by electrical equipment) and a water type extinguisher is used; the user may experience a jolt of electricity.

Also, present on the label are the operating instructions. All personnel need to be trained and made aware of the proper procedure for each fire extinguisher on the premise.

There is a standard procedure outlined in Figure 1, however, it is still important to read and know the label’s operating instructions.

Figure 1- Standard PASS acronym

How to use a fire extinguisher

Fire extinguisher maintenance

In accordance with the US Department of Labour, fire extinguishers must be inspected yearly for:

•Correct pressure within the cylinder
•Structural integrity

Moreover, a fire extinguisher must be hydrostatically tested every 5 to 12 years, depending of the type of extinguisher. Hydrostatic testing is a process by which the components of the extinguisher are pressure tested for leaks and structural flaws.

Location of fire extinguishers

The location of a fire extinguisher is arguably the most crucial element in fighting a fire. It is important that the extinguisher is within reach of the user and is located in an area that is easily visible.

The following is a list of criteria to adhere to when locating a fire extinguisher:

•Make sure the extinguisher is in a central location;
•It is located where most fires happen (ie. kitchen, mechanical equipment, garage);
•It is not placed in an area that you will get burned if reaching for it;
•It is not located higher than 5ft high;
•Nothing is around to impede one`s view of the extinguisher;
•It should be located close to all exits;
•In businesses, signs should be placed above or beside the extinguisher cabinet.