How to use a fire extinguisher to fight fires

Everybody knows about the PASS technique but most fire fighters who have fought a real fire will tell you that PASS is a very general guide. It is good because its an easy way to remember what to do but its not exactly the best method. This is a 5minute read to a more detailed, expert version of PASS.

Before you use a fire extinguisher, always ensure you have an escape route. If you have to use a fire extinguisher, do so at a safe distance. When in doubt, always choose to run. Even professional fire fighters in full fire resistant suits have been trained to never put their own lives at risk.

The PASS technique

You can also read the instruction label on the fire extinguisher.

Fire-Extinguisher-Pass-Pull 1. Pull the safety pin
Fire-Extinguisher-Pass-Aim 2. Aim at the base of the fire
Fire-Extinguisher-Pass-Squeeze 3. Squeeze the lever
Fire-Extinguisher-Pass-Sweep 4. Sweep from side to side

Fire fighting starts before the fire happens

How do we fight a fire before it even happens? All fires are easy to put out if the occupants of the room are prepared, know what types of fire to expect and which fire extinguishers can be used to fight them.

It is a grave mistake to use the wrong type of fire extinguisher against a fire it cannot possibly fight. For example, only fire extinguishers rated class F can put out kitchen fires while powder fire extinguishers will only cause the fire to grow faster.

Be familiar with the fire extinguishers that are near you and the possible fire hazards. Some fire hazards can never be completely eliminated. For example, we have to cook everyday. We have to charge our electronics everyday. In the factory, heavy machineries are operating 24/7. The key is knowing exactly what to do when the fire happens. This is why we should take our fire drills really seriously.

When the fire happens…

Calmly head towards the nearest fire extinguisher and do a quick check, if possible, to see if the pressure gauge is in the green zone. Alert the other occupants of the fire so that you can get more help.

The very first thing to be done before you leave with your fire extinguisher is to pull the pin and give it a quick squirt. This is the one and only time where you should test your fire extinguisher. Do not squeeze hard. Every bit of fire extinguishing agent is precious at this point. The purpose is only to find out if the fire extinguisher can be used.

The reason is that it is possible that even if the needle is pointing to the green zone, there is a possibility that the fire extinguisher has completely leaked and the needle is jammed in its current position. This gives it the false illusion that the fire extinguisher is pressurized even though it is actually not.

It is incredibly dangerous to head close to a fire, squeeze the handle only to find out it is empty. Time would have been wasted. If the quick squirt is done and the fire extinguisher is found to be empty, it would have been possible to quickly head to another fire extinguisher. For this reason alone, some fire marshals will educate the public to use the acronym PTASS instead. It is also why we recommend everyone to have at least two fire extinguishers.

While walking to the fire…

Continue shouting to alert all occupants. Break the fire alarm control point if you see it. Grab a second fire extinguisher if possible.

If you managed to get help from another person. Order that second person to head to the nearby fire hose reel and to prepare the hosereel. The fire hosereel take about 2-3 minutes to pull out and drag to the scene of fire but it has unlimited water and would be what SCDF uses when they reach.

The fire extinguisher is amazing at putting out incipient or small fires but it only lasts seconds. The hose reel is the back up in case the fire extinguisher is not enough. This combination of fire fighting tools is very effective against most small to medium sized fires. The downside is that you need two men at least to execute this plan of attack.

Fighting the fire

Stand at a safe distance and discharge the contents of the fire extinguisher. If safe to do so, go closer.

At a distance of 3m, almost 50+% of fire fighting powder will never directly hit the fire. A good balance between your personal safety and putting out the fire will be important. Too far away and the fire will not be hit by most of the powder. Too close and you may get burnt.

To sweep or not to sweep

If the fire is all centralized in a tiny area, then it would not make any sense to sweep and waste the fire fighting agent. The idea is to hit the fire with as much powder as possible. If the area of the fire is large, then it is of course ideal to sweep from side to side.

Running is always an option

The point of fire fighting is to firstly, preserve lives, then property. Always keep the door behind you open and always be prepared to run. Fires can be very unpredictable.

If you are alone and the fire was not successfully put out after the first fire extinguisher, you can attempt to make another try with another fire extinguisher if the fire was almost put out or greatly reduced in size. Otherwise, Run.

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