Introduction to Fire Extinguishers

In order for a fire extinguisher to provide optimal service to you in a fire emergency, four things are necessary:

    • It must be located in an accessible place.
    • It must be of the proper type for the kind of fire you face.
    • It must be maintained so that it will function when you need it.
    • It must be used properly.

Location of Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers should be stored:

    • in accessible spots
    • away from heat
    • in places in which they are likely to be needed, but where you will still be able to get to them (but out of reach of children) should a fire start, with at least one at every level of the house. Several good choices include:

      • kitchen
      • sleeping area
      • basement
      • at the head of the stairs in a multi-story structure
      • in the garage
      • in the laundry room

Types of Fire Extinguishers

There are three ways to consider the type of fire extinguisher: one is that types of fire they’re designated for; the second is the agent(s) used in the extinguisher; the third is the Underwriter’s Laboratory (UL) numerical effectiveness rating for Class A and B extinguishers.

Fire Extinguishers for Different Types of Fire

There are two fire extinguisher rating systems. The first and older system uses letters of the alphabet and colored geometric shapes. The second uses pictures and labels.

  • Class A extinguishers are for putting out fires in “ordinary combustibles," which are materials such as wood and paper.


  • Class B extinguishers are for putting out fires involving “flammable liquids,” such as oil, gasoline, grease, paint, propane, etc.

  • Class C extinguishers are for putting out fires involving “electrical equipment.”

  • Class D extinguishers are for putting out fires involving flammable metals, and do not have a picture/label in the new system.

    Type Old Label New Label Images
    Class A:
    Ordinary Combustibles A in green triangle Trash can and logs on fire
    Class B:
    Flammable Liquids B in red square Gasoline carrier and fire
    Class C:
    Electrical Equipment C in blue circle Electrical plug, socket, and fire
    Class D:
    Flammable Metals D in yellow star None
    Multiclass Extinguishers The appropriate combination of symbols, e.g., A-B, or A-B-C. All three symbols with any that are not appropriate crossed out with a large red diagonal line.

    Different Types of Fire Extinguisher

    Water: This is appropriate only for Class A (ordinary combustible) fires.

    Carbon Dioxide (CO2) This is appropriate for Class B (flammable liquids) and Class C (electrical) fires.

    Halon: This is used near electrical equipment when trying to avoid the residue that other extinguishers might leave.

    Dry Chemical: This is usually rated for multi-purpose extinguishers.

    For home use, usually multi-purpose fire extinguishers with an ABC rating are recommended.

    Fire Extinguisher Maintenance

    Fire extinguishers have a built in system to let you know about their charge. You should check periodically, and if the arrow indicates that a recharge is needed, or if the fire extinguisher has been used, you should have it recharged (check with your local fire department, or the store where you purchased it for information on how to get it recharged).

    Fire Extinguisher Use

    The mnemonic PASS is suggested by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) to help people remember the steps for using a fire extinguisher. It stands for:

      1. Pull the pin. (Do this with the nozzle pointing away from you.)
      2. Aim low (at the base of the fire).
      3. Squeeze the trigger with a slow, even motion.
      4. Sweep the nozzle side to side across the area.

    However, you should never try to fight a large blaze yourself, and you should assure everyone’s safety as a first step. Be sure to call the fire department as quickly as possible, even before attempting to fight the fire. For more information and clarification of any questions, contact your local fire department.

  • Written by Mary Elizabeth

    Related Home Institute Articles

  • Emergency Information
  • Introduction to Disaster Supplies