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Portable Fire Extinguishers

If you have a fire in your apartment or discover a fire in the building, ACTIVATE the FIRE ALARM using the nearest pull station.

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

Coté Terrace does not encourage residents to attempt to use a portable fire extinguisher to fight a fire unless they are very confident in their knowledge and ability to use the extinguisher. If a fire occurs, the 1st step is always to activate the fire alarm system.
For everyone and especially seniors, the first step, the most important step in using a portable fire extinguisher is honestly determining if doing so is something you would be able to do confidently.  For example, if you use any type of mobility device, walk with a cane or walker, you may have difficulty carrying and using a portable fire extinguisher. In this case, you should leave the area, close doors to contain the fire and activate the fire alarm.
If you do not use a mobility device you must ask yourself, will I be able to quickly activate the fire alarm, get to a portable fire extinguisher and bring it back to the fire area and extinguish the fire before it has time to grow?  A typical portable fire extinguisher found in building corridors weighs about 4.5kg (10lbs). Would you be able to carry and effectively use a portable fire extinguisher that weighs 4.5kg (10lbs) or more?
Many portable fire extinguishers are 'dry chemical', i.e. they contain a very fine powder that creates a dust cloud when discharged in an enclosed area that can make it difficult to see and breath.  Do you have any respiratory conditions or other medical conditions that would make it difficult or unsafe for you to use a portable fire extinguisher?
If you do NOT feel CONFIDENT you could quickly and safely use a portable fire extinguisher - DON'T TRY.
If you have fire or discover a fire,
  • leave the area,
  • close doors to slow the spread of the fire and smoke and
  • ACTIVATE the building FIRE ALARM system.

If a fire occurs, it is likely you will be excited and you may struggle to think clearly.  The best way to avoid this is to plan, think about how you would deal with a fire before it happens, practice your plan in your head or physical walk through the steps that would be necessary to activate the fire alarm, get the fire extinguisher and and use the fire extinguisher.

When a fire occurs is not the time to be learning how to use a portable fire extinguisher. 

If you feel confident you could use a portable fire extinguisher on a small fire, you may wish to purchase a smaller easier to handle 5 pound (1-A, 10-B, C) portable fire extinguisher for your apartment. If you choose to do this, the best place to keep the portable fire extinguisher is by your entrance door.  This is potentially safer because

  • after you have activated the fire alarm the portable fire extinguisher is close by when you come back into your apartment and

  • you are between the fire and the door so you may easily escape if the heat, smoke or fire is too great for successful use of the portable fire extinguisher.

You are not a trained firefighter. Do not take an unnecessary risk trying to control a fire. 


How Are Portable Fire Extinguishers Classified?

All extinguishers provided throughout Coté Terrace has a Underwriters Laboratory of Canada (ULC) label on it. Any portable fire extinguisher you consider buying should also have the ULC label. This is your assurance the fire extinguisher meets quality assurance standards and the label is where you find the classification for the fire extinguisher.


The letters in the classification tell you the type of materials (fuels) the portable fire extinguisher will work on.

'A' - is ordinary combustibles such as paper, wood, cloth - most materials in your apartment

'B' - is flammable liquids such as gasoline, oils and grease

'C' - means the fire extinguishing agent will not conduct electricity so it is safe to use on appliances and equipment energized with electricity.


The label illustrated indicates this fire extinguisher is Classified 1-A, 10-B, C.  These are often called 'multi-purpose' portable fire extinguishers because they will work on everything likely to be in your apartment and the agent will not conduct electricity so there is no risk using it on electric appliances and equipment. If a letter is missing in the Classification it means the extinguisher will not be effective on that type of material. For example, an extinguisher Classified 10-B, C would NOT be effective if used on ordinary combustibles such as furniture. 

The numbers before the letters indicate how big a fire the extinguisher should control when used by an experienced user.  A portable fire extinguisher Classified 1-A, 10-B, C would be adequate for a fire in a pan on the stove or similar small fire in your apartment. If the fire is larger, don't attempt to fight it. 

REMEMBER, when there is a fire the most important thing to do is ACTIVATE the FIRE ALARM so help is on the way if you need it and your neighbors can evacuate if necessary.

What to Expect:

Before you use a portable fire extinguisher you need to know 2 critical things;

  • how to use it properly and

  • what to expect when you discharge it.

Most portable fire extinguishers in use today contain a dry powder extinguishing agent.  While there are a number of different dry powder agents, most portable fire extinguishers in residential buildings are 'multi-purpose' dry chemical.

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

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When you discharge the extinguisher the dry powder is a very fine dust that creates a cloud.  In a small room there will be dust in the air that may irritate your eyes and make breathing feel difficult.  You should be prepared to quickly use the fire extinguisher, back away, close the door and wait for the firefighters to go in to check for any fire spread.

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Using a Portable Fire Extinguisher

A portable fire extinguisher should be carried in the upright position with your fingers under the handle.

  • Check the gauge to ensure the fire extinguisher is charged and ready to be used. The gauge should be in the green range.

  • Pull out the safety pin to activate the fire extinguisher

    • Before you approach the fire quickly squeeze and release the trigger to ensure the extinguisher will work.

    • Approach the fire - a portable fire extinguisher will discharge effectively for approximately 2 to 2.5m (8 to 10ft)

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  • Aim the discharge nozzle at the base of the fire nearest to you.

  • Squeeze down on the top lever (trigger) to discharge the portable fire extinguisher.

  • Sweep the discharge back and forth across the base of the fire.

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Pull the pin

Aim at the base of the fire

Squeeze the handle (trigger)

Sweep back and forth across the base of the fire.

Back away from the fire area when you think the fire is extinguished. Never turn your back on the fire when you are close to it. It may flare up and burn you. Back away to a safe distance close any doors to contain the fire and leave the area. Let the firefighters finish the job.

There is a great deal of information about portable fire extinguishers available on line.  There is also a great deal of information available in hard copy (paper) from Halton Hills Fire Department, Fire Prevention Division, safety agencies and insurance companies.

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

REMEMBER - Coté Terrace does not encourage residents to attempt to use a portable fire extinguisher to fight a fire unless they are very confident in their knowledge and ability to use the extinguisher.  If a fire occurs, the 1st step is always to activate the fire alarm system.

Additional Information

Classification Symbols:

In addition to the letters (A, B, C, D, & K) used for fire classification, symbols and pictographs are also used. The pictographs and symbols for fires classified as

  • A - Ordinary combustibles - wood, paper, cloth, etc.

  • B - flammable liquids and gases

  • C - energized electrical fires

are illustrated to the right. 

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The pictographs on the extinguisher give the user a easier to see indication of what the portable fire extinguisher can be used on rather than looking for the classification rating on the UL / ULC label.

There are two additional classification of fire and portable fire extinguishers but it is unlikely you would ever come across them.

  • Class 'D' fire are combustible metals - magnesium, titanium, sodium, and potassium for example. A portable fire extinguisher rated for class 'D' fires would usually be found in plants/factories where combustible metals are processed or used in a manufacturing process.

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Class 'K' fires are cooking oils and greases in used in cooking appliances. Extinguishing systems and portable fire extinguishers rated for class 'K' fires are required where commercial cooking equipment is installed - restaurants with 'deep fat fryers' for example. 

There are three common extinguishing agents used in portable fire extinguishers.

  • Water extinguishers: Water extinguishers are filled about two-thirds full with water and then pressurized with air. When used for Class A fires, these extinguishers remove the heat from the burning materials.

    • Do not use water to extinguish an electrical fire. Water is a good conductor and can increase the possibility of electrocution.

    • Do not use water to extinguish flammable liquid or cooking oil fires. Water is ineffective and it may spread the liquid and the fire.

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers: The extinguishing agent is pressurized CO2 and extinguishes the fire by displacing oxygen. A hard horn attached to the end of the spray tube helps to contain and aim the spray at the target area.

  • Do not use CO2 extinguishers in confined spaces as CO2 can displace the oxygen in the air, making breathing difficult.

  • Do not use CO2 extinguishers for Class A fires because the fire may continue to smolder and re-ignite after the COdisperses.

  • Dry Chemical extinguishers: Dry chemical extinguishers are the most common and available with a few different chemical agents. These extinguishers will be marked for the classes they are designed to extinguish. The extinguishers discharge a blanket of fine powder.

    • The different agents used in dry chemical portable fire extinguishers work on different classes of fire. You need to read the label to know what class of fire you could use it on.

    • Be cautious of the residue after using dry chemical extinguishers. The powder residue settling on televisions, computers and other electrical equipment can cause corrosion and damage.


Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

Recognizing Portable Fire Extinguisher Types:

All portable fire extinguishers located throughout Cote Terrace are dry chemical. Therefore it is not important that you be able to recognize the three types of portable fire extinguishers on site. This information is provided for your interest and knowledge only.

Water - portable fire extinguishers using water as the extinguishing agent are metal containers, usually chrome coloured. They are about 15cm (6in) in diameter and 80cm (30in) tall. When full they weigh about 40 pounds. Because of their size and weight and because they are only effective on class 'A' ordinary combustibles, they are becoming much less common.

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CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) - Carbon dioxide extinguishers steel cylinders usually painted red.  Because the CO2 is pressurized in the extinguisher, the steel shell is very heavy gauge making the extinguisher heavy for its overall size.  Like dry chemical extinguishers, CO2 extinguishers come in many sizes.  CO2 extinguishers are easily recognized by the discharge 'horn'.

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Dry Chemical Extinguishers - Dry chemical extinguishers are steel cylinders usually painted red or white. They may also be chrome or yellow but these are not common. Dry chemical extinguishers come in many sizes and may or may not have discharge hoses.  Over the years dry chemical, particular multipurpose dry chemical has become the most common fire extinguisher many reasons including their versatility many size options to suit the need of the area where they will be located.

Be knowledgeable, be prepared, be safe!

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