Using a Fire Extinguisher

There are 3 questions that should be considered before purchasing or using a fire extinguisher to control a fire:
  • What type of fire extinguisher is needed?
  • Is the fire at a point where it might still be controlled by a fire extinguisher?
  • Am I physically capable of using the extinguisher?
Types of Fire Extinguishers
Different types of fires require different types of extinguishers. For example, a grease fire and an electrical fire require the use of different extinguishing agents to be effective and safely put the fire out. There are 5 different types of extinguishing agents. Most fire extinguishers display symbols to show the kind of fire on which they are to be used.

Class of Extinguisher
Description Materials Used For
A Class A extinguishers put out fires in ordinary combustible materials such as
cloth, wood, rubber, paper, and many plastics.
Ordinary combustibles
B Class B extinguishers are used on fires involving flammable liquids such as grease, gasoline, oil, and oil-based paints.
Flammable liquids
Class C extinguishers are suitable for use on fires involving appliances, tools, or other equipment that is electrically energized or plugged in.
Electrical equipment
D Class D extinguishers are designed for use on flammable metals and are often specific for the type of metal in questions. These are typically found only in factories working with these metals.
Combustible metals
K Class K fire extinguishers are intended for use on fires that involve vegetable oils, animal oils, or fats in cooking appliances. These extinguishers are generally found in commercial kitchens, such as those found in restaurants, cafeterias, and caterers. Class K extinguishers are now finding their way into the residential market for use in kitchens.
Combustible cooking

Multipurpose Fire Extinguishers

There are also multipurpose fire extinguishers, such as those labeled B-C or A-B-C, that can be used on 2 or more types of fire.

Controlling the Fire

Portable fire extinguishers are valuable for immediate use on small fires. They contain a limited amount of extinguishing material and need to be properly used so that this material is not wasted. For example, when a pan initially catches fire, it may be safe to turn off the burner, place a lid on the pan, and use an extinguisher. By the time the fire has spread, however, these actions will not be adequate. Only trained firefighters can safely extinguish such fires.

When to Use a Fire Extinguisher

Use a fire extinguisher only if:
  • You have alerted other occupants and someone has called the fire department.
  • The fire is small and contained to a single object, such as a wastebasket.
  • You are safe from the toxic smoke produced by the fire.
  • You have a means of escape identified and the fire is not between you and the escape route.
  • Your instincts tell you that it is safe to use an extinguisher.
If all of these conditions are not present, you should not try to use a fire extinguisher. Instead, take the following actions:
  1. Alert other occupants.
  2. Leave the building following your home escape plan.
  3. Go to the agreed upon meeting place.
  4. Call the fire department from a cell phone or a neighbor's home.

Physical Capability

Some people have physical limitations that might diminish or eliminate their ability to properly use a fire extinguisher. People with disabilities, older adults, or children may find that an extinguisher is too heavy to handle or it may be too difficult for them to exert the necessary pressure to operate the extinguisher.


The use of a fire extinguisher in the hands of a trained adult can be a life and property saving tool. However, a majority of adults have not had fire extinguisher training and may not know how and when to use them. Fire extinguisher use requires a sound decision making process and training on their proper use and maintenance. The United States Fire Administration recommends that only those trained in the proper use and maintenance of fire extinguishers should consider using them when appropriate. Contact the Fire Department at 901-853-2195 for information on training.