The chance is high that you’ll come across at least one fire in your lifetime. It’s important to understand that fires can quickly double in size. In fact, it only takes a few seconds to a few minutes for a fire to blaze completely out of control. Most people know that if a fire extinguisher is nearby on the premises, and if the fire is containable, they should attempt to put it out quickly. While many different types of fire extinguishers are available, the good news is that most of them operate the same way. The bad news?  Most of us don’t give much thought to how they work – until we need them.

Here are the different types of extinguishers available in today’s market:

  • Class A – Handles solid combustibles like wood, cloth or paper products
  • Class B – Flammable liquids and gasses
  • Class C- Used for electrical fires
  • Class D- Flammable metals
  • Class K- Oil or grease fires

When you see a fire extinguisher in the workplace, or if you’re looking to purchase a new one for your home, it will likely be an ABC extinguisher. They’re available for no more than about $80 through your local home goods or hardware store. It’s responsible to keep at least one fire extinguisher per level of your home or office, just to make sure that you have adequate availability. Never place them near something that heats up, such as your oven, and be sure to keep them out of reach of children.

If you ever need to use a fire extinguisher, you should first consider the following:

  • Are you taller than the fire? If the fire is bigger than you, close off the room the fire is contained in and dial 911.
  • Do you have the right type of extinguisher on hand? An ABC extinguisher can likely still assist with very small grease fires.
  • Is your extinguisher pressurized? Check the gauge on your extinguisher to make sure.

Ready to use your fire extinguisher? Get into position. Most extinguishers can reach 2-6 meters when discharged. From there, remember to P.A.S.S.

  • Pull the pin
  • Aim the nozzle at the base of your fire
  • Squeeze the trigger in a smooth, controlled manner
  • Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it is out

Keep in mind that most extinguishers give you anywhere from 10-20 seconds of extinguishing time. Keep an eye on the area just to make sure that nothing else, such as a hot spot, reignites once the fire is out. When you’re finished with your extinguisher, take it in to get repressurized or throw it away if it’s disposable. Don’t forget to replace it!

Many communities offer hands-on fire extinguisher training. Check with your local fire department for more information.