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Portable Fire Extinguishers

Selection, Use and Maintenance

Each year, fire kills or severely injures thousands of people and destroys millions of dollars worth of property. Many fires start small, and may be extinguished or controlled by a fire extinguisher. You can minimize property damage by having the right type of fire extinguisher and knowing how to use it. Fires are classified by the types of materials involved in the fire. Most fires fit into one or a combination of Four classifications: Class A, Class B, Class C and Class D. The chart in Figure 1 will help you classify the fires that you might encounter in your facility. It gives general recommendations for the types of extinguishers most likely to be used to extinguish these fires.

Know What the Extinguisher Label Says

Fire extinguishers are identified by the class, extinguishing agent, and size of a fire that they are designed to extinguish. Universal fire class symbols are present on fire extinguisher labels. These labels tell you which classes of fires the unit will safely extinguish.


Extinguisher size is shown on the label in either pounds of dry chemical or gallons of liquid contained in the unit. (The size is sometimes identified in the manufacturer's model number.) More dry chemical, for example, will not necessarily mean that a unit will extinguish more fire than one with less chemical. This is due to variations in chemicals used in extinguishers. Look for the classification or rating to be certain of the unit's extinguishing capacity.

Classification or Rating

The classification, or rating, shows the size of a Class A or B fire the unit can be expected to put out. Controlled laboratory testing (by Underwriters' Laboratories or Fire Marshall, UL or FM) determines classification before a manufacturer puts a model on the market. The higher the rating or classification, the greater the extinguishing capacity. For example, a unit classified 4A can be expected to extinguish twice as much Class A fire as one classified 2A. When comparing units of similar physical size, compare classifications to be sure which unit will provide the greatest fire fighting potential.


Remove the fire extinguisher from it's box and mount it in a readily accessible location. Read the operating instructions on the label and become familiar with the units operating components. Be sure to instruct all family members or employees in the use and location of a fire extinguisher. Prepare ahead of time! Do not wait until a fire occurs to read and interpret operating instructions. Although extinguishers may vary slightly in operating procedures, most will use the following steps:
  1. Grasp the unit by the carrying handle and the base; remove it from the mounting bracket and carry it to the fire .
  2. Pull the locking pin to break the tamper seal. If the unit has a hose, remove the hose from its retaining clip.
  3. Move the extinguisher as close to the fire as possible without endangering yourself. Grasp the hose in one hand and press or squeeze the handle or trigger release with the other. (If the unit is a CO2 extinguisher, grasp the horn handle and not the discharge horn, doing so may freeze your hand.). If the unit has no hose, point the nozzle towards the fire.
  4. Discharge the contents, of the extinguisher, at the base of the flames using a sweeping side to side motion. Start at the near edge and work to the rear of the fire and then up the vertical surface. Always leave an escape route for yourself when you are fighting a fire.

    Crownfire can prepare your staff. Contact us for information on live demonstration and training.


Place the mounting bracket for the extinguisher on a firm surface 31/2 to 5 feet above the floor. Extinguishers should be installed away from any potential fire hazards and near exits or escape routes in the areas you plan to protect.

Inspection and Maintenance

Inspect extinguishers at least once a month. Check that each is in its designated location and at the proper pressure. The tamper seal should not be broken and the unit should not have any readily apparent damage. Check the discharge hose for damage and the nozzle for obstructions. Most pressurized units sold today have a gauge that shows whether the unit has sufficient stored pressure to discharge the contents. If the pressure gauge shows insufficient pressure, the extinguisher should be recharged or replaced immediately. Extinguishers also should be recharged after each use regardless of the amount of chemical discharged. Most fire extinguisher can be serviced or repaired, contact Crownfire to see how we can help repair any equiptment you may have.

Have a Plan

The most important aspect of fire safety is to have a plan of action when a fire is discovered. This plan should cover the steps required to save lives and property.

Step 1: Immediate Rescue - Check to see if anyone is in danger or needs rescue
Step 2: Confine the Fire if Possible - If the fire is in the early stage and poses no immediate threat to your personal safety, make an effort to prevent its spread by closing the door to the fire room, putting lids on burning pans or shutting off the electricity. For small cooking fires, throwing baking soda at the base of the flames will smother the fire.
Step 3: Call for Help - Dialing 911 will connect you with an emergency operator.
Step 4: Contain or Extinguish - If you have the proper extinguisher, you may be able to contain or control the fire. This depends on the size, type and location of the fire. Be certain that you leave a path of retreat from the scene to guarantee your personal safety.

Helpful Hints

  • Powder in dry chemical units has a tendency to compact, this is especially true when the fire extinguisher is stored in a motor vehicle. Periodic shaking of the extinguisher will keep the powder loose and aid in its performance.
  • Powder in dry chemical units may damage some sensitive equipment. Avoid direct contact with skin and eyes.
  • Some carbon tetrachloride pump-type units are still in existence. This type of extinguisher is extremely dangerous and should not be used. Check with your local fire department for disposal recommendations.
  • Place the emergency contact telephone number ( 911 ) or check your local listing for departments near you.


Be prepared for a fire, plan your course of action beforehand. Post an emergency escape plan, then practice it often. A portable fire extinguisher is only a first-aid or emergency unit. It can be used on small fires and only during the initial stage. The discharge time on most fire extinguishers is very short, it can be measured in only seconds! Regardless of your actions be sure you or somebody else notifies the Fire Department. Make sure you use the proper Class of fire extinguisher for the hazard you are trying to extinguish. Do not risk your life or the lives of others in fighting a fire that has grown too large for the extinguisher to put out. Always be sure you have a clear escape path, don't get trapped fighting a fire! If you are unsure how to operate a fire extinguisher, get out. Saving your life and others comes first! Be proactive, use fire prevention measures in the home and at work everyday

Basic Portable Extinguisher Types

Dry Chemical

Dry Chemical extinguishers are usually rated for multiple purpose use. They contain an extinguishing agent and use a compressed, non-flammable gas as a propellant.

Water: These extinguishers contain water and compressed gas and should only be used on Class A (ordinary combustibles) fires.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are most effective on Class B and C (liquids and electrical) fires. Since the gas disperses quickly, these extinguishers are only effective from 3 to 8 feet. The carbon dioxide is stored as a compressed liquid in the extinguisher; as it expands, it cools the surrounding air. The cooling will often cause ice to form around the "horn" where the gas is expelled from the extinguisher. Since the fire could re-ignite, continue to apply the agent even after the fire appears to be out.