Home fire extinguishers can pose risks if they are used improperly. Different types of extinguishers are used for different types of fire. Using the wrong type of extinguisher can actually make the fire worse. Arrange training in the use and knowledge of fire extinguishers to be prepared in the event of an emergency.
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Risks of Water Fire Extinguishers
Some fire extinguishers are filled with water that is under extreme pressure. These extinguishers should be used only on combustible material fires. Combustible material fires are fires fuelled by paper, wood, fabrics and some types of plastic. Using a water extinguisher on an electrical fire puts the user at risk of electrical shock since water is an excellent conductor of electricity. Deep fat fryer fires should not be extinguished with water. Oils and fats burn at extremely high temperatures. Trying to extinguish an oil fire with water can result in the fire spreading and possibly a small explosion.
Risks of Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguishers
Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are filled with carbon dioxide which is highly pressurised. Carbon dioxide is a toxic gas, causing extreme risks at concentrations above 7 per cent. Carbon dioxide extinguishers work by displacing the oxygen which is fuelling the fire. Using a carbon dioxide extinguisher in an enclosed space will reduce the amounts of oxygen available for breathing. Wear breathing apparatus if using a carbon dioxide extinguisher in an enclosed area. Furthermore, carbon dioxide under pressure forms dry ice. Skin damage can occur when handling the extremely cold plastic horn during use of a carbon dioxide extinguisher.
Fire Fighting Risks
Using fire extinguishers to put out fires poses certain risks. Choosing the right extinguisher for the type of fire is one of the most important decisions. Using a carbon dioxide extinguisher on combustible material fires is not recommended as carbon dioxide is not a reliable extinguishing agent for materials that are highly combustible. Also, fires can reignite at any time. You should never turn your back on an extinguished fire.
Using Fire Extinguishers
Use the "PASS" acronym as a reminder of how to use fire extinguishers. You should pull out the pin of the extinguisher, aim at the base of the fire and not the flames, squeeze the lever slowly to release even amounts of extinguishing agent and sweep the extinguisher from side to side to cover all areas of the fire. Portable fire extinguishers are suitable only for tackling smaller fires. If you are faced with a large fire, the best option is to evacuate the premises immediately.
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- U.S. Dept of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration: Extinguishers Basics
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Carbon Dioxide as a Fire Suppressant, Examining the Risks; Updated 19 August 2010
- Ohio State University Extension; Portable Fire Extinguishers for Trainers & Supervisors; 2006
- Alabama Cooperative Extension System; Knowing How & When to Use a Fire Extinguisher Could Save Your Life & Property; Nov. 17, 2003