If you have a fire extinguisher, you should learn to read the tags to ensure it's working. Not only will the information on the tag tell you what kind of fires you can use the extinguisher on, the tags will tell you when it was last filled, how often it's been discharged, and what chemicals are used inside. Newer extinguishers, and those for the home, come equipped with gauges on the head to tell you if the extinguisher is charged, low, or has been used. For commercial extinguishers that are refilled, you're more likely to find a tag with the date, year, and other information.
Step 1 - Locate Your Fire Extinguisher
If you work for a business, by law, fire extinguishers are required for the building. Locate each extinguisher. Most are located by or near exits, doorways, or in areas near where a fire might be more likely to start, such as near a stove, heater, or trash collection area.
Step 2 - Read the Status Tag
Some extinguishers have one tag, with the expiration date and inspection record and the status of the extinguisher written into a space. Others have a separate, usually yellow-colored status tag, also called the cylinder tag. This tag will tell you whether the extinguisher is full, in service, or has been discharged and is empty. Read a status or cylinder tag from the bottom of the tag up. Status tags have all three terms, empty, in-service and full on the tag. The last term on the bottom of the tag, not the top, is the current status. As each phase is completed, the bottom of the tag is torn off, leaving the next term as the active status.
Step 3 - Read the Expiration Tag
Most extinguisher tags just have the year and the month of the last inspection on the tag. Some tags do have the inspection record and also the recharge record with a space for initials and a date. Any tag with an inspection longer than 2 to 5 years old is no good and should be recharged by a certified dealer. Non-refillable extinguishers should be taken to your local fire department for disposal.
Step 4 - Read the Class Extinguisher Tag
Every fire extinguisher, whether for home or commercial use, should have a tag or label with the class of the extinguisher clearly displayed. This label or tag will read "Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D" or "Class ABC." The designation tells you what kind of fire the extinguisher can be used on. Using the wrong kind of extinguisher, such as a paper and wood fire extinguisher on a gas or electrical fire, can accelerate the fire.
Class A extinguishers should only be used on paper, wood, and organic fires such as clothing, furniture, trash cans with paper, and cardboard contents. Class B extinguishers should only be used on combustible or flammable liquids like oil, grease, and gasoline fires. Class C extinguishers should only be used on electrical fires and Class D only on chemical fires and combustible metals. Class ABC extinguishers can be used on wood, paper, electrical, and combustible liquids, but not chemical fires.