Fires are not only extremely dangerous, taking many lives and causing life-changing injuries, but they are very damaging – stock, property and equipment can be wiped out in a matter of minutes. The importance of making sure that you and your staff are trained in how to safely, correctly and appropriately respond to the outbreak of a fire cannot be overestimated, so we have written this handy guide on how to use a fire extinguisher to help you on your way.

What type of fire extinguisher do you need?

The first thing you need to ascertain in the event of a fire, is what type of fire you are dealing with. Paper/wood, chemical, electrical and fuel/oil fires all need to be responded to differently – otherwise you might not be effective in putting it out, or you could even make it worse. Here are the common fire types and the appropriate extinguishers for each:

  • Class A fires are those that involve solid combustibles like wood, paper or textiles
  • Class B fires involve flammable liquids – oils, petrol, diesel, etc
  • Class C fires are gas based


Class A and Class B fires can be responded to with foam extinguishers. These include an aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) which forms a seal around the material to prevent vapours from reigniting – a particular danger with fuels and oils.


Water extinguishers are suitable for use on Class A fires. They work by permeating the material, cooling it so it will not burn as easily and putting out any flames that are already there.


Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are used on Class B fires and electrical fires – the CO2 displaces the oxygen from the area immediately around the fire, causing it to go out. Because they do not leave any residue, these extinguishers are great for expensive or delicate equipment and machinery.


Powder extinguishers are suitable for use against Class A, B and C fires. They work by propelling an extinguishing agent in the form of a powder over the flames, starving them of oxygen and causing them to go out.

How are they used?

All of the above-mentioned extinguishers are used in essentially the same way. The user picks up the extinguisher bottle/tank, releases the hose and the trigger and then points the hose at the centre of the fire. When the trigger is pulled, the extinguishing substance jets out of the hose and covers the area of the fire. Before you even pick up the extinguisher though, be sure to alert other people on site about the danger – shout or pull an alarm to start people evacuating the building, just in case your efforts to control the blaze are ineffective.

One of the most important things to consider when you attempt to extinguish a fire, is whether it is already out of control. If there is no chance of you extinguishing it, or even limiting the spread, it is time to evacuate and leave it to the emergency services. Fire doors should control the fire in the interim, but your health and safety and that of your staff and customers, must always come first.