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Environmental Health & Safety

Fire Extinguishers and Their Use Guidelines

Used properly, a portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by extinguishing a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives.  Portable fire extinguishers, however, are not designed to fight large or spreading fires.

Swift reaction to a fire can determine whether or not the incident is controlled.  Following established procedures is critical to saving lives and property.  It is important that employees learn appropriate emergency procedures.

Some University buildings are fight buildings; some are flight buildings.  Fight buildings/areas are those where evacuation is not feasible or where, without immediate intervention, a fire could rapidly develop or cause current processes to be shut down.  University fight buildings are:  Strong Memorial Hospital, James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, Golisano Children's Hospital at Strong, Psychiatry, Ambulatory Care Facility, Sawgrass Surgical Center, Medical Center, Kornberg Medical Research Building, Ernest J. Del Monte Neuromedicine Institute, Hutchison Hall, Laboratory for Laser Energetics, Central Utilities Plant, Strong West Emergency Department and Strong West Ambulatory Surgical Center.

All others are flight buildings where the most appropriate action is to activate the fire alarm and evacuate immediately.


Before deciding to fight a fire follow RACE:

Ø      Rescue anyone in immediate danger and remove the person to a safe area;

Ø      Activate the building fire alarm, then call Public Safety at x13 or #413 from your cell phone from a safe location and report the fire; for Sawgrass Surgical Center (ASC), Activate the building fire alarm, and then call 911.

Ø      Confine the fire by closing all doors;

Ø      Evacuate if the fire is spreading beyond the point of origin or the fire could block your exit or you are not sure how to use an extinguisher;


Ø      Extinguish the fire if you have activated the fire alarm and closed doors, the fire is small and contained, you have a clear exit from the fire, you know what is burning, you have the correct fire extinguisher for that material and you have been trained on the proper use of an extinguisher within the last year.

Remember  -- fire spreads quickly.  If you cannot extinguish it with 1 fire extinguisher, get yourself out!


To choose the proper extinguisher:

Ø      For ordinary fires involving solids such as wood, paper, and cloth, choose a water, dry chemical or water mist extinguisher with a label that says Class A, AC or ABC.  Do not use water on flammable liquid or electrical fires.

Ø      For fires involving flammable liquids, choose a dry chemical or carbon dioxide extinguisher with a label that says Class BC or ABC.  Never use a water extinguisher.

Ø      For fires involving active electrical equipment, choose a dry chemical, carbon dioxide or water mist extinguisher with a label that says Class BC, C, ABC or AC.

Ø      For fires involving metals, chose a graphite extinguisher with label that says Class D or use sand found in buckets located in laboratories.  Never use an A, B, or C extinguisher on this type of fire.

Ø      For fires involving cooking equipment such as deep fat fryer choose a wet chemical extinguisher with a label that says Class K.

To use an extinguisher:

Remember the acronym PASS, keep a clear exit behind you and stand 6-8 feet away from the fire.

Ø      Pull the pin to activate the handle.

Ø      Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire.

Ø      Squeeze the handle to expel the extinguishing agent at the base of the fire. (When the agent first hits the fire, the fire may briefly flare up. This should be expected.)

Ø      Sweep the extinguishing agent from side to side pushing the fire away from you. Discharge the entire contents of the extinguisher. Do not use more than 1 fire extinguisher on a fire.

Once the fire is out, the user should carefully back away from the fire until the user is safe. Never turn your back on fire as it could flare back up.


When to Fight a Fire

The only time a fire extinguisher should be used to fight a fire is when the fire department has been notified, there is a clear exit behind the person using the extinguisher and the fire is small, self-contained, and not spreading rapidly and you have received fire extinguisher training within the last year.


Never Fight a Fire If

  • the fire alarm has not been activated and an evacuation has not begun.
  • the fire is spreading beyond the point where it started.
  • you don’t know what is burning – then you won’t know what type of fire extinguisher to use.
  • there is not an escape exit behind the person attempting to fight the fire.
  • the fire can block the only exit.
  • you might inhale toxic smoke.
  • the individual is not thoroughly familiar with effective fire extinguisher use and trained within the last year.
  • the available fire extinguisher is not rated for the type of fire being fought.
  • your instincts tell you not to.  If you are uncomfortable with the situation for any reason, get out and let the fire department fight the fire.

If you have any questions or if you’d like to schedule extinguisher training, call the EH&S Fire Marshal’s Office at X 5-3243.


Contact EH&S at (585) 275-3241 or e-mail EH&S Questions.

This page last updated 9/2/2022. Disclaimer.