A portable fire extinguisher is a device that can be used to put out small fires or contain them until the fire department arrives. It is one of the most common and essential fire safety equipment for homes and businesses. However, not all fire extinguishers are the same, and using them incorrectly can be dangerous or ineffective. In this article, we will explain the different types of portable fire extinguishers, how to use them safely and effectively, and how to inspect and maintain them regularly.

Portable Fire Extinguisher

Key Takeaways

  • There are five main types of portable fire extinguishers: water, foam, dry chemical, carbon dioxide, and wet chemical. Each type is designed to fight a specific class of fire: A, B, C, D, or K.
  • To use a fire extinguisher, remember the word PASS: Pull the pin, Aim low at the base of the fire, Squeeze the lever, and Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
  • Fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly and maintained annually by a trained professional. They should also be tested periodically according to their type and age.
  • Fire extinguishers are only effective for small fires that are confined to a small area. For larger or spreading fires, the priority is to get out safely and call 911.

Types of Portable Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are classified by the type of fire they can extinguish. The following table summarizes the five main types of portable fire extinguishers and their corresponding fire classes.

TypeFire ClassDescriptionExamples
WaterAFires involving ordinary combustible materials such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber, and plastic.Trash cans, furniture, curtains
FoamA, BFires involving flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, paint, and grease.Gas tanks, oil spills, paint cans
Dry ChemicalA, B, CFires involving electrical equipment such as appliances, wires, fuse boxes, and circuit breakers.Computers, TVs, power outlets
Carbon DioxideB, CFires involving flammable liquids or electrical equipment that require a non-conductive agent.Engines, generators, transformers
Wet ChemicalKFires involving cooking oils and fats that require a cooling and saponifying agent.Deep fryers, stoves, grills

Some fire extinguishers are multipurpose and can be used for more than one class of fire. They are usually labeled as A-B-C or B-C. However, they may not be as effective as a specific type of extinguisher for a particular class of fire.

Fire extinguishers also have a numerical rating that indicates how much fire they can put out. For example, a 2-A extinguisher can put out twice as much fire as a 1-A extinguisher. The higher the rating, the larger the fire the extinguisher can handle. However, higher-rated extinguishers are also heavier and harder to use.

How to Use a Portable Fire Extinguisher

Before using a fire extinguisher, make sure that the following conditions are met:

  • The fire is small and contained to a single object or area.
  • Everyone has evacuated the building or room and someone has called 911.
  • You have a clear escape route that is not blocked by fire or smoke.
  • You have the right type of fire extinguisher for the fire class.

If any of these conditions are not met, do not attempt to use the fire extinguisher. Instead, get out of the building or room as quickly as possible and wait for the fire department.

To use a fire extinguisher safely and effectively, follow these four steps:

  1. Pull the pin. This will break the tamper seal and allow you to operate the lever.
  2. Aim low at the base of the fire. Do not aim at the flames or smoke as this will not put out the fire.
  3. Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly. This will release the extinguishing agent from the nozzle.
  4. Sweep the nozzle from side to side until the fire is out. Move carefully toward the fire as it diminishes. Watch for any signs of re-ignition and repeat if necessary.

After using a fire extinguisher, do not touch or move it until it is inspected by a professional. The extinguisher may still be under pressure or contain hazardous materials.

How to Inspect and Maintain a Portable Fire Extinguisher

Fire extinguishers need regular inspection and maintenance to ensure that they are in good working condition and ready for use in an emergency. The following table summarizes the basic steps for inspecting and maintaining a portable fire extinguisher.

InspectionMonthlyCheck the location, visibility, accessibility, pressure gauge, weight, and condition of the extinguisher. Record the date and initials on the tag or label.
MaintenanceAnnuallyHave a trained professional perform a thorough examination of the extinguisher’s mechanical parts, extinguishing agent, and expelling means. Replace or repair any defective or damaged parts.
TestingPeriodicallyHave a trained professional perform a hydrostatic test or an internal examination of the extinguisher’s cylinder, shell, or hose. The frequency of testing depends on the type and age of the extinguisher.

Fire extinguishers have a limited lifespan and need to be replaced when they expire or fail to pass inspection, maintenance, or testing. The expiration date or manufacture date can be found on the label or nameplate of the extinguisher. Generally, fire extinguishers last between 5 and 15 years depending on their type and quality.


Portable fire extinguishers are vital tools for fire safety and prevention. However, they are not a substitute for fire alarms, sprinklers, or professional firefighters. Fire extinguishers should only be used for small fires that can be easily controlled and extinguished. To use a fire extinguisher properly, you need to know the type, rating, and operation of the device. You also need to inspect and maintain your fire extinguisher regularly to ensure its reliability and effectiveness. By following these tips, you can protect yourself and your property from fire hazards.

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