When used properly for home fires, a portable fire extinguisher can limit property damage and prevent injuries.

When should you use an extinguisher and attempt to fight the fire?

Only if:

• The fire department has been called and the experts are on the way;

• Everyone is evacuating the building;

• The fire is contained to a small area and not spreading;

• You are physically able to use a fire extinguisher;

• You have an easy escape route and an opening to your back; and

• You have the right fire extinguisher.

Every fire extinguisher is designed to fight a certain class or classes of fire. Identifying these various classes will help you select the right fire extinguisher. Keep in mind that using the wrong type of fire extinguisher can cause a fire to spread and place you in greater danger.

The classes are normally printed on the box of the extinguisher and the extinguisher itself. For home use, most people will need an ABC extinguisher. This type of device works on three common classes of fires:

Class A: ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber upholstery, and many plastics. Often found in homes and businesses.

Class B: flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, grease, tar, oil-based paint, etc. (The best example is a grease fire on the stove.)

Class C: energized electrical equipment, including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, and appliances.

A home fire extinguisher is recommended for each floor level in the home or anywhere there is a risk. It should be placed near an exit in the event a fire breaks out. Keep extinguishers easy for adults to see but out of the reach of children.

Fire extinguishers don’t last forever – usually about 7 to 10 years – so look for that information on the box and then date your extinguisher with a permanent marker.

Most extinguishers have visual how-to instructions for use right on the extinguisher. Make sure you understand them before a fire breaks out. The time of the emergency is not the time to be figuring out how to use an extinguisher.

There is a simple reminder to help you remember how to use an extinguisher: PASS. This means:

Pull the pin to unlock the handle (the pin is located at the top of the unit)

Aim low at the base of the fire

Squeeze the handle which will release the extinguishing agent

Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire

After using an extinguisher, either replace it or have it serviced. Most home extinguishers are for one-time use.

If at any time the fire spreads, smoke starts to fill the room, or you feel overwhelmed, stop what you’re doing and get out!

Cinda Seamon is the fire and life safety educator for Hilton Head Island Fire Rescue.