A fire extinguisher could save your home or business. Yet most people have never even handled a fire extinguisher.

Panic and inexperience are poor partners — anyone who handles a fire extinguisher for the first time in a crisis could do more harm than good. A mishandled fire extinguisher can turn a small fire into an inferno.

You can find safety in education. Here are seven common fire extinguisher mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Not Having Training

Although fire extinguishers aren’t complex to use as such, it does take some know-how to use them right. 

Fire safety training will cover most of the other items on this list and more. Without the appropriate training, you could make a fatal mistake when fighting a fire.

Any fire warden in a commercial setting should have the appropriate training. Anyone who expects they might have to use a fire extinguisher should attend a fire safety course so they know how to identify the right kind of extinguisher, maintain a safe distance, and operate the extinguisher properly.

2. Using the Wrong Fire Extinguisher

Using the wrong fire extinguisher on a fire can elevate an incident to a disaster. Without training, it’s an easy mistake to make. That means that a fire extinguisher can make a situation worse in untrained hands.

Fire extinguishers are categorised by class. Each class specialises in fighting fires involving different materials. Fire protection companies will be able to advise on which you need for your property.

The different classes of fire extinguisher are:

  • Class A: For flammable solids like wood and paper
  • Class B: For flammable liquids like oil
  • Class C: For flammable gases
  • Class D: For burning metals 
  • Class E: For electrical fires
  • Class F: For fats, as in cooking fires

Matching the class of extinguisher to the fire is essential. Using a water-based fire extinguisher on an oil fire, for instance, will accelerate the fire and splash the burning liquid.

3. Using an Unserviced Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher can’t languish in a forgotten corner if you want it ready for an emergency.

Extinguishers need a regular, yearly service, which will check the extinguisher for damage, corrosion, or blockage. It will also check that the extinguisher weighs its expected amount.

Extinguishers also need a more intensive five-year service to keep them in working condition.

If you skip either of these services, there’s no guarantee the fire extinguisher will be in working condition when you need it—hardly ideal for a piece of emergency equipment. The best fire extinguisher installation companies will also provide a service package that will keep your extinguishers fit for use.

4. Aiming at the Wrong Place

It’s human nature to go for the flashy part. Yet that’s a bad way to fight a fire.

The upper part of a fire is like a vehicle’s exhaust, not its engine. Most of the physics happens at the fire’s base, where heat and fuel meet oxygen. When untrained individuals use a fire extinguisher, they often aim too high, fighting the symptom but not the disease.

This allows a fire to spread further and may even allow it to outpace an extinguisher’s ability to keep up.

When fighting a fire, aim for the base of the fire, where the heat and fuel are. This smothers the fire at the source, allowing you to extinguish the fire faster.

5. Getting Too Close

Fire extinguishers aren’t just designed to fight a fire—they’re also engineered so that fighting a fire is possible from a safe distance.

So don’t get closer than you need to when fighting a fire. Aim the nozzle from a safe distance of around eight feet and maintain that distance where possible.

Approaching a fire can put you at risk of becoming caught in the blaze, particularly if your clothes catch on fire. It will also put you in danger of smoke inhalation and other secondary effects, and place you within range of any splashing materials, like oil.

6. Leaving the Power On

When fighting a fire, the objective is to remove as many elements as possible from the fire triangle: oxygen, heat, and fuel.

Turning off the power is often essential for removing the element of heat, which can otherwise cause a fire to spread. If safe, disconnect power at the mains. If this is impossible or unsafe due to the location of the fire, turn off the power at the property’s fuse box.

If you aren’t sure which fuses control which area of the building, turn off the main switch to cut all power.

For a gas appliance like a gas hob, you should try to switch off the gas where possible. In the early stages of a fire, you may be able to do this on the appliance. You can also close the mains gas valve to disconnect the property from the gas supply as you would with the electrical supply. Either one can help to control a developing fire.

7. Not Evacuating

Before you ever pick up a fire extinguisher, you need to make a swift but informed decision: is fire-fighting the right thing to do?

A fire extinguisher may be appropriate for a small fire in controlled conditions, but stopping to fight a larger, more dangerous fire could put lives at risk. In many cases, it’s often safer to evacuate by safe routes and call the fire service instead.

Never put yourself at risk when there’s a developing fire. Most objects can be replaced and any that can’t still aren’t worth your life. Fire insurance will cover much of the expense of a fire in a commercial or residential property, so always value your life over property.

Fire Safety: Using a Fire Extinguisher the Right Way

These seven fire safety mistakes can defeat the entire point of using a fire extinguisher. A few seconds of misuse could be enough to turn an incident into a tragedy, so be sure you know what you’re doing before you pick up the extinguisher. If in doubt, evacuate and let the professionals and fire extinguisher installation companies handle the job.

Early detection is often one of the most crucial elements of fighting a fire, always focus on that and avoid the above-mentioned mistakes in the future.

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