How Well-Trained Are You in the Use of Portable Fire Extinguishers?

Source: 123RF

When you were first hired on your job, did you receive training on the use of a fire extinguisher? And did you know, training must be held annually?

With red-flag warnings in place and an “extreme” fire risk for parts of Northern California on Wednesday that is expected to shift south Thursday, the risk of a fire in the workplace becomes a real possibility.

For a fire to exist, the following four elements must be present at the same time:

  • Enough oxygen to sustain combustion;
  • Enough heat to raise the material to its ignition temperature;
  • Some sort of fuel or combustible material; and
  • The chemical reaction that is fire.

Portable fire extinguishers apply an extinguishing agent that will either cool burning fuel, displace or remove oxygen, or stop the chemical reaction so a fire cannot continue to burn. When the handle of an extinguisher is compressed, a chemical agent is expelled out of the nozzle.

According to Wikipedia, the first fire extinguisher of which there is any record was patented in England in 1723 by Ambrose Godfrey, a celebrated chemist at that time. It consisted of a cask of fire-extinguishing liquid containing a pewter chamber of gunpowder. This was connected with a system of fuses which was ignited, exploding the gunpowder and scattering the solution.

This device was probably used to a limited extent, as Bradley’s Weekly Messenger for November 7, 1729, refers to its efficiency in stopping a fire in London.

The modern dry powder fire extinguisher was invented by British Captain George William Manby in 1818; it consisted of a copper vessel of 3 gallons (13.6 liters) of pearl ash (potassium carbonate) solution contained within compressed air.

According to OSHA regulations, [29 CFR 1910.157(g)(1)], it is the employer’s responsibility to educate employees on the principles and practices of using a fire extinguisher and the hazards associated with fighting small or developing fires.

Employees who have been designated to use fire extinguishers as part of the emergency action plan must be trained on how to use the fire extinguishers appropriately in the workplace. [29 CFR 1910.157(g)(3)]

This training is a specialized form of education that focuses on developing or improving skills and it must be provided annually and when employees are first assigned these duties. [29 CFR 1910.157(g)(4)]

These steps should be followed when responding to incipient (initial) stage fire:

  • Sound the fire alarm and call the fire department, if appropriate;
  • Identify a safe evacuation path before approaching the fire. Do not allow the fire, heat, or smoke to come between you and your evacuation path;
  • Select the appropriate type of fire extinguisher;
  • Discharge the extinguisher within its effective range using the P.A.S.S. technique (pull, aim, squeeze, sweep);
  • Back away from an extinguished fire in case it flames up again;
  • Evacuate immediately if the extinguisher is empty and the fire is not out;
  • Evacuate immediately if the fire progresses beyond the incipient stage.

Most fire extinguishers operate using the following P.A.S.S. technique:

  1. PULL… Pull the pin. This will also break the tamper seal.
  2. AIM… Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle (or its horn or hose) at the base of the fire.NOTE: Do not touch the plastic discharge horn on CO2 extinguishers, it gets very cold and may damage the skin.
  3. SQUEEZE… Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
  4. SWEEP… Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out. Watch the area. If the fire re-ignites, repeat steps 2 – 4.