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All modern fire extinguishers work in basically the same way. They work by means of a method called controllable discharge, this involves depressing the two levers at the top of the fire extinguisher. These levers are spring loaded, so when you press down the extinguisher works and when you release the extinguisher stops, this method applies to all modern fire extinguishers manufactured for the UK market since 1985.
To prevent accidental discharge the extinguishers are fitted with some form of safety pin through the levers or handles. This safety pin will be held in place by some form of tamper indicator which is usually a plastic tag or disc dependant of the extinguisher manufacturer. This tag must be removed from the extinguisher to allow removal of the pin and depression of the extinguisher levers. Whilst this is being done the user must hold the hose of the extinguisher for waters, foams and dry powders and aim the extinguisher hose at the base of the fire, with Co2 fire extinguishers it is important to remember not to hold the horn and elbow unlike the other fire extinguishers as on standard C02 fire extinguishers the horn and elbow is prone to freezing and can cause the user a frost burn from prolonged exposure, to prevent this the C02 extinguishers horn and elbow will hold rigid at 90 degrees and does not require holding like the flexible hose of water, foam and dry powder extinguishers. We know need to squeeze our levers completely to discharge the extinguisher, if we only partially squeeze the levers the extinguisher's pressure will be lost but the extinguishing medium, be it water, foam, dry powder or C02, will remain in the cylinder. The fire extinguisher must be kept in an upright position whilst this action take place.
Finally when aiming the discharge at the base of the fire sweep the hose in a left, right motion to completely cover the fire, it is important to remember how each medium extinguishes the fire, water extinguishers work by cooling, foam powder and C02 extinguishers work by smothering the fire and removing the oxygen.
To simplify this method the phrase P.A.S.S is used. This stands for Pull out the pin, Aim the hose at the base of the fire, Squeeze the levers slowly and Sweep the hose from left to right.
It is vital that the user familiarises himself with the different types of portable fire extinguishers in their working environment. All modern fire extinguishers manufactured in the European union to BS EN3 are red and will have instructions on how to operate them and what they can and cannot be used on both in the text of the language of the country you are visiting and internationally accepted graphic symbols and pictograms making them accessible to all users.