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

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

• When the fire department has been called – get the experts on the way

• When everyone is evacuating the building

• When the fire is contained to a small area and not spreading

• If you are physically able to use a fire extinguisher

• If you have an easy escape route and an opening to your back

• If you have the right fire extinguisher

Every fire extinguisher is designed to fight a certain class or classes of fire. There are various classes, and identifying these will help you select the right fire extinguisher. 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.

Keep in mind that using the wrong type of fire extinguisher can cause a fire to spread and place you in greater danger.

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

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

Class C: Use on 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. Most are good for about seven to 10 years, so look for that information in the box and then mark the date on your extinguisher with a permanent marker.

Most extinguishers have printed or visual how-to instructions for proper use right on the label. 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 an acronym to remember that will help in using an extinguisher: PASS.

This means:

Pull the pin to unlock the handle (it 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, or smoke starts to fill the room or you feel overwhelmed, just get out!

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