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Where is a Fire Extinguisher When You Need One?

Fire Extinguisher, OSHA, JJ Safety

Joe Powder

Hopefully, if OSHA compliant, it’s in a place accessible to employees that have been trained to use it. Fire extinguishers can be an efficient way to prevent a large fire from breaking out when used correctly. A fire extinguisher is an active fire protection device used to extinguish or control small fires, often in emergency situations. It is not intended for use on an out-of-control fire, such as one which has reached the ceiling, endangers the user (i.e., no escape route, smoke, explosion hazard, etc.), or otherwise requires the expertise of a fire department. Typically, a fire extinguisher consists of a hand-held cylindrical pressure vessel containing an agent which can be discharged to extinguish a fire. Fire extinguishers manufactured with non-cylindrical pressure vessels also exist but are less common.

Fire extinguishers play a very important role in the business. Even though most of the time they are forgotten about, they play a very important role in businesses of all types and they might be a requirement for the RAVS® in your ISNetworld® account. 

We all remember fire drills in school, right? Do you remember learning how to use a fire extinguisher? Knowing how to use fire extinguishers properly is paramount if you want to stay safe in a fire emergency. Fire extinguishers are critical in businesses across the country as a line of defense. The first line of defense being prevention in your overall fire protection program. 

Every employer is required to provide portable fire extinguishers and mount, locate and identify them so that they are readily accessible to employees without subjecting the employees to possible injury, according to OSHA.

Every business should have a written fire prevention plan. This plan should be kept in the workplace and available to employees. The plan should communicate fire hazards and prevention procedures. 

 At a minimum, your fire prevention plan should include:

  • A list of all major fire hazards, proper handling and storage procedures for hazardous materials, potential ignition sources and their control, and the type of fire protection equipment necessary to control each major hazard. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(1)]
  • Procedures to control accumulations of flammable and combustible waste materials. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(2)]
  • Procedures for regular maintenance of safeguards installed on heat-producing equipment to prevent the accidental ignition of combustible materials. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(3)]
  • The name or job title of employees responsible for maintaining equipment to prevent or control sources of ignition or fires. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(4)]
  • The name or job title of employees responsible for the control of fuel source hazards. [29 CFR 1910.39(c)(5)]

In order to prevent fires, it is important to understand how fires occur. Fire is a very rapid chemical reaction between oxygen and a combustible material, which results in the release of heat, light, flames, and smoke.

  • For fire to exist, the following four elements must be present at the same time:
  • Enough oxygen to sustain combustion.
  • Enough heat to raise the material to its ignition temperature.
  • Some sort of fuel or combustible material.

Your employees may need personal protective equipment to evacuate during an emergency. Personal protective equipment must be based on the potential hazards in the workplace. Assess your workplace to determine potential hazards and the appropriate controls and protective equipment for those hazards. Personal protective equipment may include items such as the following:

  • Safety glasses, goggles, or face shields for eye protection
  • Hard hats and safety shoes for head and foot protection
  • Proper respirators
  • Chemical suits, gloves, hoods, and boots for body protection from chemicals
  • Special body protection for abnormal environmental conditions, such as extreme temperatures
  • Any other special equipment or warning devices necessary for hazards associated with your worksite.

Personal protective equipment is normally thought of as a piece of clothing, but fire extinguishers can be considered personal protective equipment as well.  When used properly, fire extinguishers can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or controlling a fire until help arrives. A fire is the most common type of emergency for which small businesses must plan. A critical decision when planning is whether employees should fight a small fire with a portable fire extinguisher or simply evacuate. 

Here’s what OSHA has to say on the subject:

1910.157(g)Training and education. 

1910.157(g)(1) Where the employer has provided portable fire extinguishers for employee use in the workplace, the employer shall also provide an educational program to familiarize employees with the general principles of fire extinguisher use and the hazards involved with incipient stage firefighting. 

1910.157(g)(2) The employer shall provide the education required in paragraph (g)(1) of this section upon initial employment and at least annually thereafter. 

1910.157(g)(3) The employer shall provide employees who have been designated to use firefighting equipment as part of an emergency action plan with training in the use of the appropriate equipment. 

1910.157(g)(4) The employer shall provide the training required in paragraph (g)(3) of this section upon initial assignment to the designated group of employees and at least annually thereafter.

Different types of fire extinguishers are designed to fight different types of fire.

  • Classes of fire are based on the type of substance fueling the fire:
  • Class A – ordinary combustibles (paper, trash, some plastics, wood, cloth)
  • Class B – flammable gasses (propane, butane) or liquids (gasoline, petroleum oils, paint)
  • Class C – energized electrical equipment (appliances, motors, transformers) 
  • Class D – combustible metals (potassium, lithium, sodium, aluminum, magnesium) 
  • Class K – cooking oils and greases (animal fats, vegetable oils)

Portable fire extinguishers apply an extinguishing agent that will either cool burning fuel, displace or remove oxygen, or stop the chemical reaction so a fire cannot continue to burn. When the handle of an extinguisher is compressed, agent is expelled from the nozzle.  All portable fire extinguishers must be approved by a nationally recognized testing laboratory to verify compliance with applicable standards. [29 CFR 1910.157(c)(2)] Equipment that passes the laboratory’s tests are labeled and given an alpha-numeric classification based on the type and size of fire it will extinguish.


Extinguishing Fires

Most fire extinguishers operate using the following P.A.S.S. technique:

  • PULL… Pull the pin. This will also break the tamper seal.
  • AIM… Aim low, pointing the extinguisher nozzle (or its horn or hose) at the base of the fire. NOTE: Do not touch the plastic discharge horn on CO2 extinguishers, it gets very cold and may damage skin.
  • SQUEEZE… Squeeze the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
  • SWEEP... Sweep from side to side at the base of the fire until it appears to be out. Watch the area. If the fire re-ignites, repeat steps 2 – 4.

If you have the slightest doubt about your ability to fight a fire…. EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY!

Using a Fire Extinguisher

The following steps should be followed when responding to incipient stage fire:

  • Sound the fire alarm and call the fire department, if appropriate.
  • Identify a safe evacuation path before approaching the fire. Do not allow the fire, heat, or smoke to come between you and your evacuation path.
  • Select the appropriate type of fire extinguisher.
  • Discharge the extinguisher within its effective range using the P.A.S.S. technique (pull, aim, squeeze, sweep).
  • Back away from an extinguished fire in case it flames up again.
  • Evacuate immediately if the extinguisher is empty and the fire is not out.
  • Evacuate immediately if the fire progresses beyond the incipient stage.

And again, if you have the slightest doubt about your ability to fight a fire…. EVACUATE IMMEDIATELY!

Fire Extinguishers need to be maintained. OSHA requires the following in regard to maintenance of your fire extinguishers.

Inspect, maintain, and test all portable fire extinguishers in the workplace. [29 CFR 1910.157(e)(1)]

Visually inspect portable extinguishers or hoses monthly. [29 CFR 1910.157(e)(2)]

Perform an annual maintenance check on portable fire extinguishers. Stored pressure extinguishers do not require an internal examination. Record the annual maintenance date and retain this record for one year after the last entry or the life of the shell, whichever is less. Make the record available to the Assistant Secretary upon request. [29 CFR 1910.157(e)(3)]

Empty and maintain dry chemical extinguishers (that require a 12-year hydrostatic test) every six years. Dry chemical extinguishers that have non-refillable disposable containers are exempt from this requirement. When recharging or hydrostatic testing is performed, the six-year requirement begins from that date. [29 CFR 1910.157(e)(4)]

Provide alternate equivalent protection when portable fire extinguishers are removed from service for maintenance and recharging. [29 CFR 1910.157(e)(5)]”

If you’re looking for help establishing a written fire protection program and safety training, JJ Safety has what you need. 

Call 833-277-7022 or email us at to learn more.

4 thoughts on “Where is a Fire Extinguisher When You Need One?”

  1. I want to make sure that I have a fire prevention plan for my home. It makes sense that I would want to get the right kinds of fire extinguishers for it. That way, I can always have a method on hand to stop a fire before it gets too out of control.

    1. Hi Braden, Thank you for your comment. I definitely recommend having a proper fire prevention plan in place. You can never be too safe! If you have any questions on fire prevention plans or need help getting one written, feel free to contact us at 866-627-3850 or email us at Thanks so much and have a safe day!

  2. Thanks so much for talking about the equipment and the plan you need prepared for the case of a fire emergency. My cousin’s husband owns a restaurant and he’s been talking about needing to upgrade his fire safety plans. We’ve been looking into finding a company he can work with to get new equipment and make his updated plans.

    1. Hi Jessie,
      Thank you for your comment. We encourage all of our readers to provide feedback. Best of luck in obtaining the new equipment. If you have any questions about fire prevention, please feel free to contact us at 866-627-3850 or email us at

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