Fight or Flight

In the event of a fire, we are all confronted with the decision of whether to fight the flames with an extinguisher or evacuate the building immediately. This is probably the most important decision you will face when a fire breaks out.

When you are not trained in portable extinguisher use, the answer is easy: you should evacuate, and never attempt to fight a fire if you do not have extinguisher training. If you are trained with extinguishers, however, there are many things to consider when deciding whether to fight or take flight.

Questions to Fight By

Ask yourself these questions when determining whether to fight a fire with a portable extinguisher or evacuate the building.

Is the fire small enough to be controlled by a portable extinguisher?

The time to use a portable extinguisher is during the early stages of a fire. Once a fire starts to spread, your best option is to evacuate the building.

Am I safe from toxic smoke and gases?

Remember that all fires produce carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless toxic gas. Many fires will produce other toxic gases in addition to carbon monoxide. If the fire is producing large amounts of smoke, or you suspect the fire involves a hazardous material, your best option is to evacuate the building

Do I have an escape route?

Before attempting to extinguish a fire, always ensure you have a reliable escape route. If you are in a room or confined area, position yourself between the fire and the exit door. In other words, when you are facing the fire the exit door should be at your back, ensuring you are not trapped if the fire is not quickly extinguished.

Do I have the right extinguisher?

Make sure the extinguisher’s label indicates it is rated for use in fighting the type of fuel that is burning, and check if the extinguisher is fully charged. If the extinguisher is not fully charged, or is not the proper type, your best option is to evacuate the building. You can find information about extinguisher ratings in Know Your Fire Extinguisher ABCs.

What do my instincts tell me?

If you do not feel comfortable trying to extinguish the fire, do not attempt to. Evacuate the building and let the fire department do their job. Remember: firefighters have equipment, training, and experience that you do not possess.

Fight the Fire

If you decide to attempt to extinguish the fire, take the following actions:

  • Activate the fire alarm system to notify building occupants of the emergency
  • Notify the university police or the Austin Fire Department of the fire
  • Remember: Do not attempt to extinguish a fire until these actions are completed
  • Position yourself between the fire and your escape route, approximately six to eight feet from the fire
  • Remember the acronym PASS:
    • P – Pull the pin that unlocks the operating handle
    • A – Aim the extinguisher low at the base of the fire
    • S – Squeeze the lever on the extinguisher to discharge the agent
    • S – Sweep the nozzle or hose from side to side, and continue to sweep the extinguisher back and forth at the base of the flames until the fire is out or the extinguisher is empty

If your suppression efforts are unsuccessful…

  • Quickly leave the room, and close the door behind you to confine the fire
  • Evacuate the building, and, if possible, inform responding firefighters of the fire location and your suppression efforts.

After the Fire is Out…

  • Monitor conditions to ensure the fire does not reignite
  • Maintain a reliable escape route until the possibility of re-ignition no longer exists
  • Avoid exposure to the extinguishing agent, because inhalation of the agent may irritate your respiratory system

Take Flight

If you do not attempt to extinguish the fire, your only course of action is to evacuate the building. During evacuation you should take the following actions:

  • Evacuate the room and close the door behind you to confine the fire
  • Activate the fire alarm system to notify building occupants of the emergency
  • Notify the university police or the Austin Fire Department of the fire
  • Evacuate the building
  • Remain outside until notified by the fire department the building is safe to re-enter