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Fire Extinguisher Use

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November 01, 2023 | NATIONAL JOSEPH CEA, Correspondent

Instruction on the use of a fire extinguisher is altogether different and very unique. Part of the reason for this ventures into the realm of fire and life safety educators as opposed and in addition to fire instructors. This is significant because the audience is now a lot more varied and not specifically fire service personnel. Now we are talking about elementary and secondary students, perhaps residential staff (RAs and RDs) at a local college or even seniors at an assisted living facility. Either way there is an added element of not only teaching the person in front of you but also having to train a lay-person thoroughly enough to turn around and train other non-fire service personnel.   

The use of fire extinguishers is on the list of perishable skills because they are not used very often although that circumstance can also be viewed favorably as being indicative of not having burned your house down too many times while cooking chicken cutlets. As a result, fire extinguisher lessons are purposely designed to be very simple so that most people can not only retain and implement the skills for themselves but also pass along the information they learned to other interested individuals. 

When instructing residential, focus on the PASS acronym. It is easy for most folks to remember and then hopefully never have to use. More specifically:

P - Pull the pin at the top of the extinguisher

A - Aim (at the base of the fire) 

S - Squeeze the handles together

S - Sweep back and forth smothering the fire  

Always demonstrate this with an extinguisher in hand while repeating the acronym so that everyone has a visual along with the verbal instructions. For the lay-person you may want to have different sized extinguishers on hand for home use and to provide information on the types of fires (A,B,C, D and K) so that a proper extinguisher can be purchased.  

When instructing for the purpose of having the residential staff or supervisory personnel bring back information to students or staff then go into more detail. There are two reasons for this. First, to provide more information knowing that some will be lost in translation and second because emergencies that people in supervisory positions will likely run into will be larger in scale than a typical family of four exiting their house. For example, one hundred students exiting a dormitory is likely going to be more chaotic and therefore more preparation is necessary.     

When the objective is to train the trainer (again we are talking about non-fire service personnel), start out by covering all the previous material presented here and then add more detail and a great place to start is another acronym that on many occasions accompanies and actually incorporates PASS and that is RACE which stands for:  

R - Remove (yourself and others from the fire)

A - Alarm/Alert i.e. pull a fire alarm to alert local first responders

C - Contain/Confine - close any doors to confine the fire to a single room 

E - Extinguish/Evacuate - Get out or attempt to put out the fire (refer back to PASS)

One really important aspect of fire extinguisher use should be emphasized here. Yes, fire extinguishers can be used to put out fires but they can also be used to create a path for yourself and others through a fire to get to an exit.  

The last group that will likely receive instruction on fire extinguisher use are firefighters and/or fellow instructors. One would like to think that most if not all firefighters already know the basic and additional information presented and so it is imperative to step up the game to the mastery level and provide specific details that a firefighter is expected to know including but not limited to:  

1. Fire extinguishers are governed by NFPA standard 10
2. There are several different kinds of extinguishers including dry chemical (A, B and C), CO2, Halotron, Class D, Class K, Water Can, Water Can Mist etc...  
3. Sizes, labels and ID numbers.
4. Inspection procedures (monthly and six year hydrostatic test) 
5. Placement and necessary and/or required frequency - this is usually dependent on the building use and maximum occupancy.  
6. Proper record keeping

Probably more so than other fire service topics teaching about fire extinguisher use it is important to know your audience. The goal of course is to keep everyone safe and instructors do that in part by knowing who they are dealing with to make sure their presentation fits. 

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JOSEPH CEACorrespondent

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