What is a fire extinguisher and how is it used?

Household 2 min read

A fire extinguisher is a handheld fire protection device used to extinguish and control small fires. Fire extinguishers can save lives and property if you know how to use them correctly. Edward Mulholland, Sergeant at Arms, Local 22 Philadelphia Firefighters’ and Paramedics’ Union, explains how to use a fire extinguisher and answers some common questions.

How long is a fire extinguisher good for?

Many fire extinguishers are good for ten years if you don’t discharge them and they aren’t damaged. However, expiration dates vary. Check the label on the canister or the box the extinguisher came in to be sure.

How often should fire extinguishers be inspected?

You should inspect your fire extinguishers twice a year. To inspect a fire extinguisher, look for signs of damage, pin placement, signs of usage, the pressure gauge, and expiration date. If the unit shows signs of damage, if someone has removed the pin, or engaged the canister, the pressure is low, or the extinguisher is expired, you should replace it. Learn about fire safety inspections and how to prevent a house fire.

How to use a fire extinguisher

Most fire extinguishers have illustrated instructions on the canister. Refer to them if you have questions about how to use a fire extinguisher by your specific model. Steps to using a fire extinguisher include:

  1. Stand six to eight feet away from the fire
  2. Pull the pin out or remove the plastic tab
  3. Point the nozzle at the base of the fire
  4. Squeeze the handle and spray until the fire extinguisher is empty

If the pin comes out of the fire extinguisher, you can put it back in by sliding it through the two holes on the handle. However, if someone has already discharged the fire extinguisher, you should throw it away. “It’s not worth the risk. If it’s ever engaged, it’s time to get a new one,” Mulholland said.

How to store a fire extinguisher

If you are wondering where to put a fire extinguisher, Mulholland recommends placing fire extinguishers in areas of your home where there’s an increased fire risk, such as the kitchen, fireplaces and outdoor grilling spaces. If you have a detached garage or workshop where you store lawnmowers, snowblowers, or use tools that spark, you should put one there, too.

Other considerations for using a fire extinguisher

Using the right type of fire extinguisher can help minimize damage by quickly putting out small fires. However, knowing when to get out and get help could save your life. According to Mulholland, if the fire is the size of a suitcase (or bigger) or spreading, you should call the fire department. “If you’re looking at this fire, and it’s grown beyond the original area or traveling up the wall, curtains, [or] cabinets, please call 911. Get out first. Then call 911,” he said. “It’s not worth your life.”

Learn more about the different types of fire extinguishers and how to use them.

Was this article helpful?

3 min
3 min
4 min
3 min
3 min