How to Use Handheld Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are an extremely effective tool for fighting fires, but only if you know how to use them properly!  Here we offer some useful tips and reminders for their safe use – and what to avoid.

There really is no substitute for hands-on training, so if you really want to be confident, take the opportunity of doing a hand-held fire extinguisher training course.
Course fees can be as little as £20 per person – further details can be found at:

If in doubt, get out!

When considering whether to tackle a small fire yourself, always bear in mind the golden rule of fire safety:
If in doubt, get out, stay out, and call the Fire Brigade out!

Using a Fire Extinguisher on a Class A, B or C Fire

These fires are the most common that you might be required to deal with. Most water, foam, CO2 and powder fire extinguishers work in the same way, regardless of shape or size. An easy way to remember what to do when operating a fire extinguisher is to think of the acronym PASS.
  • Pull the safety pin out, to free the lever on top of the extinguisher
  • Aim the fire extinguisher nozzle or hose at the base of the fire, standing around 8 feet back from the fire
  • Squeeze the handle evenly to release the fire-fighting agent
  • Sweep the nozzle or hose across the base of the fire (not the flames) until it is fully extinguished.

Using a Fire Extinguisher On or Near Electrical Equipment

Only use a fire extinguisher on or near electrical equipment if the extinguisher carries the electrical safety icon – a lightning flash with an arrow. These are normally found on CO2, dry powder and clean agents such as FE-36 and FM200.
The best fire extinguisher to use safety and directly on live electrical equipment is a CO2 fire extinguisher.

Using a CO2 Fire Extinguisher

When using CO2 fire extinguishers with a ‘swivel horn’, be careful not to hold the extinguisher by the horn.  As the CO2 is released, ice rapidly forms on the horn and your skin may get frozen and burnt as a result.
Many new 2kg CO2 extinguishers feature a ‘frost-free’ horn that should be safe to hold. However, it will not be obvious to most operators which models are safe and which are not, so we recommend you don’t hold the horn at all.
Larger CO2 fire extinguishers should have a hose and horn. You can safely hold this horn by its plastic handle or by the base of the horn that joins on to the rubber hose.

Tackling a Class F Cooking Oil or Cooking Fat Fire

Class F fires involving cooking oils and fats should only be tackled using a suitably sized fire blanket (1.8m x 1.2m) if the fire is small and confined to a pan or cooker top.
If the fire is large, then a wet chemical fire extinguisher would normally be required, however these need special training to be used effectively.
Never use water, foam or CO2 on a Class F cooking oil or cooking fat fire, as these will only cause the fire to explode and spread very quickly.

Using a Metal Fire Extinguisher on a Class D Fire

Class D fires involving flammable metals require specialist fire extinguishers and fire extinguishing materials which have a special lance and low velocity applicator.
You should always be given full training in the use of these specialised extinguishers.
Information supplied courtesy of


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