ABC’s of fire extinguisher use in healthcare

You’ve worked near one your entire career, and it is, right now, likely within 75 feet or less of where you are sitting. The question is, do you know how to actually use a fire extinguisher to help save lives and limit property damage should a fire suddenly ignite?

In accordance with codes and regulations, nursing homes and assisted living communities are required to provide a sufficient number of fire extinguishers throughout each building. Additionally, employees of these types of occupancies are required to know how to properly use fire extinguishers. While there are three main classes of fire and a variety of different types of extinguishers, the type that is typically installed within most healthcare facilities is designed to extinguish each common class of fire.

These classes include:

●  Class A—Common Combustibles (wood, paper, cloth, some plastics, etc.)

●  Class B—Flammable Liquids (grease, cooking oils, gasoline, etc.)

●  Class C—Energized Electrical (any fire supported by electricity)

For the safety and protection of occupants in LTC facilities, multipurpose “ABC” type fire extinguishers are likely installed within your building. These multi-use extinguishers are designed to extinguish all three common classifications of fire.

Learning how to properly use a fire extinguisher is a detailed process that should be part of your facility’s training regimen for all new employees as well as reviewed on a periodic basis with the rest of staff.

Before using a fire extinguisher, it is essential that you follow your facility’s emergency procedures, remove residents who may be in immediate jeopardy and “sound the alarm” by either activating the building’s fire alarm system or designating someone to call 9-1-1 to notify the fire department and other emergency responders. Once these actions have been taken, an attempt to control the fire should be made by utilizing the P.A.S.S. method of fire extinguishment.

P.A.S.S. stands for:

●  Pull the safety pin on the lever (usually secured with a plastic “breakaway” tie). The pin is in place to prevent accidental discharge.

●  Aim the nozzle at the base of what is burning.

●  Squeeze the lever to discharge the contents of the extinguisher.

●  Sweep the nozzle back and forth, covering the fire with extinguishing agent until it has been put out.

Go and find the closest fire extinguisher to your workstation and read the instructions as well as learn your facility’s specific protocols for fire control. Play an active role in your facility’s Life Safety program by knowing emergency response procedures.

When it comes to fire, remember to P.A.S.S.—not fail—when you need to use a fire extinguisher at work or at home.

Stan Szpytek is the president of consulting firm Fire and Life Safety, Inc., in Mesa, Arizona, and is the Life Safety/Disaster Planning Consultant for the Arizona Health Care Association and California Association of Health Facilities. Szpytek is a former deputy fire chief and fire marshal with more than 30 years of experience in life safety compliance and emergency preparedness. For more information, visit or email Szpytek at

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