When to fight the fire – portable fire extinguishers

In the event of a fire we are presented with the traditional response in an emergency - fight or flight. The following is a quick guide to help assist you with the decision-making process of whether to utilize an available portable fire extinguisher to fight the fire, or whether it is best to evacuate the facility and leave the suppression efforts to the fire department.


When presented with an active fire, the first step to take is not to engage in the fire but rather ensure that the authorities are contacted and that all persons in the area are evacuated and safe from danger. Remember, when calling 911, dial the number yourself or single out a specific person and instruct them “You, call 911.” Studies have proven that asking a crowd to call 911, most people assume that another individual will call, leaving a situation where the authorities were not immediately contacted. Only after this should you begin to assess the fire and whether a portable fire extinguisher may be able to extinguish the flames. A quick reminder of these tasks can be utilized with the 3 A’s:

  • ACTIVATE – use the fire alarm or contact authorities by calling 911
  • ASSIST – help those who are in potential danger without risk to yourself
  • ATTEMPT – assess the size of the fire and determine whether you are able to fight it


So how do you know when to fight the fire or whether you should focus on evacuation of yourself and others?

Assessing a fire is broken down into a few simple questions. You should choose to fight a fire with a portable fire extinguisher ONLY if you answer “yes” to all of these questions:

  • Do you know what is burning?
  • Is the fire small and contained enough to be controlled with a portable fire extinguisher?
  • Are you safe from toxic smoke?
  • Do you have an escape route?
  • Do you have the appropriate fire extinguisher for the substance that is burning?
  • Lastly, trust your instincts!

“DO YOU KNOW WHAT IS BURNING?” This is very important, because this directly effects the later step of assessing if you have the “APPROPRIATE FIRE EXTINGUISHER” for the burning substance. Fire extinguishers are designed to extinguish specific fuels (see The ABC’s of Fire Extinguishers). For example, if you are going to extinguish a grease fire, water will only agitate the fire and cause it to flare, where a K-Class fire extinguisher is specifically designed to fight a grease fire. Knowing the substance and the correct fire extinguisher is key. If you are unaware of the substance burning or which fire extinguisher to use, DO NOT attempt to fight the fire.

“IS THE FIRE SMALL ENOUGH TO BE CONTOLLED?” There is a limited about of time where a fire is able to be fought with a portable fire extinguisher. Only in these early stages should you attempt to put the fire out, otherwise the fire will begin to spread and at that point evacuation is your best option.

“ARE YOU SAFE FROM TOXIC SMOKE?” More deaths are attributed to smoke inhalation than the actual fire. Carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes can be produced by a fire and if the fire is producing large amounts of smoke, or you have reason to believe that hazardous materials are involved in the fire, evacuation is your best option. If you are safe from these fumes only then should you attempt to put out the fire.

“DO YOU HAVE AN ESCAPE ROUTE?” Assuming you are in a room, it is important that you place yourself between the fire and the exit to the room. This way you ensure that if the fire is to spread you will not be trapped by the fire. Only if you can maintain your escape route should you attempt to put out the fire.


Only fight the fire with a portable fire extinguisher if you feel confident in the situation and in control.


Fighting the fire should only be done after the 3 A’s have been satisfied and the fire properly assessed.

Now that you have decided to fight the fire, it is important to remember the proper manner in which to use the fire extinguisher – P.A.S.S.

  • P – pull the pin to unlock the operating handle on the fire extinguisher
  • A – aim the fire extinguisher at the base of the fire
  • S – squeeze the trigger on the operating handle
  • S – sweep the nozzle from side to side at the base of the flames.

Continue to use the fire extinguisher until the fire is out or the fire extinguisher is empty. After the fire is out, monitor the location of the fire as the substance could reignite. Continue evacuation if necessary due to smoke, toxic fumes, and the extinguishing agent itself.


Fighting a fire may not always result in full suppression. If the fire remains or grows despite your attempts to extinguish it, quickly leave the area utilizing your escape route that you have previously identified. Evacuate the building if possible and notify first responders to the location of the fire and your suppression efforts.

Thanks for learning with us. We are here to assist you with your fire and safety needs.

The Iridium Protection Team