Can the Average Person Operate a Portable Fire Extinguisher?

Posted by Commercial Fire Blog Team on Jul 20, 2021



Fire extinguishers are considered the first defense against fire and can be found in numerous locations—buildings, structures, vehicles, and marine craft of all kinds. Consequently, questions surround the placement of fire extinguishers, where the general public may use them, and if they do, would the untrained individual be able to operate an extinguisher?

Portable Fire Extinguishers are Everywhere

Found in commercial properties, schools, government buildings, homes, and even in cars, planes, and watercraft, they’re considered a first line of defense in protecting people and property and indispensable in fighting fire at its initial stages. What’s more, portable fire extinguishers are required by code in many instances—NFPA 10 and OSHA 1910.157 chief among them. With that all said, it’s obvious that portable fire extinguishers aren’t going anywhere.


Can the Average Person Operate One?

To answer this question as to whether or not an average individual can operate a portable fire extinguisher, a study was conducted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Eastern Kentucky University. Employing a random sampling of the population, they gathered data on the use, technique, and safety of portable fire extinguishers in the hands of an average person.


A Study was Preformed

Using the BullEx Intelligent Training System to teach participants how to use a fire extinguisher against Class A, B, or C fires, researchers simulated a Class A fire via a controlled propane system. The results were very consistent between the two investigating universities, which clearly demonstrated the majority of participants in this study were capable of not only operating the extinguishers correctly (pull the pin and squeeze the handle and lever), but were equally successful at putting out the simulated fires. Additionally, the study discovered that with just minimal training, almost one hundred percent of the participants were fully capable of safely extinguishing a fire.


What the Data Said

Without any training whatsoever, ninety-eight percent of the two hundred and seventy-six participants discharged the extinguishing agent onto a fire on their first try, and one hundred percent of participants were successful on their second try. Nearly three-quarters of the participant also used proper technique (aiming at the fire’s base and sweeping back and forth) to put out the fire. However, with just some minimal instruction (similar to the instructions on the extinguisher's nameplate), ninety-six percent of participants aimed at the base of the fire while sweeping back and forth. Overall, the study showed that the average person was more than capable of using a portable fire extinguisher safely and with great effectiveness.


Source,–-WPI-EKU-Study.pdf, reviewed April 20, 2021.


Topics: Fire Extinguishers