Know Your CO2 Fire Extinguisher

The first thing to do when you see a fire, before you even grab the carbon dioxide fire extinguisher, is to let others know there's a problem. If there's an alarm, use that to alert the other people in the building. If no alarm is available, tell someone and have him or her spread the word. Call the fire department before you attempt to put out a fire, and don't try to deal with one unless you know what to do.

Then, be sure that the CO2 fire extinguisher is really the right tool for the job. It works on most fires, including flammable liquids, gases, and electrical fires. However, the pressure at which the extinguisher operates can damage items, and small pieces of ice may fly out of it. CO2 fire extinguishers are not commonly used around computers because of the possibility of damage. Instead, another type of "clean" fire extinguisher may be used. For most applications where a grease or electrical fire is a danger, however, carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are a good choice, because they leave behind no powdery or harmful residues. Some dry chemical extinguishers contain dangerous chemicals, and all of them leave behind a mess to clean up.

Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers are also not ideal for some paper, cardboard, or plastic fires, since they can't displace enough oxygen to make sure that the fire is out. Because these extinguishers don't always cool the fire enough, there may be enough heat to cause a problem. When the carbon dioxide dissipates, and the oxygen returns, the fire may re-ignite. For oil fires and electrical fires, however, they are quite effective. Never use a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher on a fire containing flammable metals - it can actually increase the chemical reaction!

Once you're certain that what you need is a CO2 fire extinguisher, release its trigger mechanism by pulling out the plastic tag. Move the discharge horn up to a right angle with your body, and use your body to support it. Never hold this discharge horn with your hand while using it. Metal discharge horns will become so cold on a CO2 fire extinguisher that your hand could freeze to them. You should only deal with a fire when it's in the very earliest stages. Never try to put out a fire that's gotten established in a building, or try to deal with a fire if you're not sure what you're doing. Remember - you're not obligated to try to put a fire out. Call the fire department as soon as possible if you're not confident you can deal with the fire.

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