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Portable Fire Extinguisher Safety

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Portable Fire Extinguisher Overview

Portable fire extinguishers are found in most buildings on campus. When used properly, portable fire extinguishers can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or containing it until the fire department arrives. Portable fire extinguishers however are not designed to fight a large or spreading fire. Extinguishers can be used to allow you to safely exit a burning building.

Portable fire extinguishers come in many types, sizes, shapes, and colors. The three most common types of portable fire extinguishers on campus are:

ABC multi-purpose dry chemical, stored pressure type: These are the most commonly found extinguishers on campus and can be used on all classes of fire except combustible metals. They range in size from 2.5 to 20 lbs., and have an effective range of 5-to-20 feet.

Water extinguisher: These are for Class A fires only, and have an effective range of 30-to-40 feet. Class A fires are those involving ordinary combustibles like paper or wood

Carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguisher: These are for small Class B or C fires only. They range in size from 5-to-20 lbs., and their effective range is 3-to-8 feet. Class B fires involve flammable liquids like grease, gasoline and oil. Class C fire are those involving electrically energized systems.

Less common types of fire extinguishers include Class D, which are suitable for flammable metals such as magnesium, titanium, sodium, and lithium, and Class K, which are suitable for fires involving combustible cooking media like oil in a cooking appliance.

How to Use a Portable Fire Extinguisher

Safe use of portable fire extinguishers: If you do fight the fire, remember the word PASS.

PULL the pin.
AIM the hose or nozzle at the base of the fire.
SQUEEZE the handle to release the extinguishing agent.
SWEEP from side to side.

Keep the extinguisher aimed at the base of the fire and sweep back and forth until it appears to be out. Watch the fire area. If a fire breaks out again, repeat the process.

Before you begin to fight a small fire:

  • Be sure that your extinguisher is the proper size and type for the fire at hand and that you have been trained in how to use it.
  • Make sure everyone has left or is leaving, the building.
  • Make sure the fire department has been called.
  • Be certain that the fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and that it is not spreading beyond the immediate area.
  • Be sure that your back is to a safe and unobstructed exit to which the fire will not spread.

It is reckless to fight a fire with an extinguisher in any other circumstances. Instead, leave the area immediately, close off the area and leave the fire for the fire department.

Inspecting Portable Fire Extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers must be visually inspected monthly. If the portable fire extinguisher is located in an area where there are severe hazards, abnormal temperatures, a corrosive atmosphere, or potential for damage, it must be inspected more frequently. Portable fire extinguishers are also subject to periodic testing as described below.

The monthly review of portable fire extinguishers located in common areas (hallways, lobbies, and office suites) are conducted by the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities staff for academic and administrative buildings and Housing and Dining Services staff for residence halls and dining halls.

In areas that have restricted access (laboratories and other limited-access research areas), the monthly review must be performed by designated laboratory personnel. The principal investigator, laboratory manager, or supervisor is responsible for assuring that these monthly reviews are performed and documented as required.

Annual maintenance reviews and periodic testing of portable fire extinguishers are performed using term contracts administered by the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities and Residential Life/ Student Programs. Contact Environmental Health & Safety Fire Safety team at 540-231-9068 for further information.

Portable fire extinguishers must be ready for use at all times.  The following conditions should be reviewed for all types of extinguishers:

  • Ensure that the portable fire extinguisher is mounted on the hanger or bracket and that the hanger or bracket is securely anchored.
  • If located within a fire extinguisher cabinet, make sure the cabinet is NOT locked.
  • Ensure that access to the Portable fire extinguisher is not obstructed and that the portable fire extinguisher is not obscured from view.
  • Visually examine the extinguisher to make sure there is no obvious physical damage, leakage, or a clogged nozzle.
  • Check the pin and plastic seal on the handle.  The pin should be secured into the handle with a plastic tie, indicating that the Fire Extinguisher has not been previously discharged
  • For carbon dioxide and other extinguishers that do not have a pressure gauge, check for fullness by weighing or by lifting it up to check its 'heft' or fullness.
  • For ABC-type extinguishers, check the gauge (see below) to verify that the arrow is in the green area, indicating that it has the appropriate amount of pressure to discharge the extinguishing agent.
  • For ABC-type extinguishers, remove them from the bracket and tip it upside down. The agent inside the extinguisher will settle and pack as hard as a rock over time. Turn the fire extinguisher upside down a few times to break up the agent inside.
Drawing of Portable fire extinguisher gauge.
Portable fire extinguisher gauge.
  • Check to make sure that the fire extinguisher has been inspected within the last year by the vendor.  If all of the above criteria are acceptable, initial and date the monthly inspection tag.
  • If there are any discrepancies that you can't fix or if the fire extinguisher is missing the annual or monthly inspection tag, contact the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities at 540-231-4300. If you have general questions related to this inspection process, please contact the Fire Safety team at 540-231-9068 or

After an extinguisher is placed in an area, it is placed on a facilities inventory list. Subsequently, the extinguishers are scheduled to be inspected and tested periodically. Contact 540-231-7835 for assistance.

Portable Fire Extinguisher Training

  • Those who have specific duties as first responders as part of an Emergency Action Plan;
  • Ushers and attendants at large public gatherings who have assigned fire response duties;
  • Those who inspect the extinguishers;
  • Those involved in construction and renovation work, especially those performing utility and "hot work" (e.g., welding, cutting, brazing, and grinding).
  • Those who work at fuel dispensing stations; and
  • Laboratory personnel who work in areas where flammable or combustible liquids are dispensed and used.

Portable fire extinguisher Training is offered through Environmental Health & Safety upon request. All Virginia Tech employees who must have portable fire extinguisher training are required to attend a training session every two years. Training is available both in-person and online.

Frequently Asked Questions

Employees are expected to evacuate the building unless it is specifically part of their job description that they will attempt to control a fire. However, if you are properly trained to use a portable fire extinguisher, can evaluate the situation, and extinguish a fire safely with no personal risk, then you may do so. The choice is yours.

In general, there is no employer expectation for employees to attempt to extinguish a fire or otherwise stay in their workplace for any reason upon being notified of a fire emergency. Specific employees may be required, however, to maintain critical equipment or services or to arrange for the orderly shutdown of hazardous processes; such a requirement should be written into the employee's job description and included in your department's Emergency Action Plan.

Certain employees, however, may need to be trained to use fire extinguishers based on their job duties or work location. Persons who oversee hot work operations (welding, cutting or brazing), who work in fuel dispensing areas, or where there are unusual fire hazards, for example, would fall in this category.

If you need to order a portable fire extinguisher for your area, please contact the Division of Campus Planning, Infrastructure, and Facilities at 540-231-4300.

Please contact Environmental Health & Safety to have your area evaluated for portable fire extinguisher needs. This evaluation will include determining the type and size of the extinguisher that would be appropriate for space and operation.

Contact Information

Phone: 540-231-3600