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Ohio State University Extension


Portable Fire Extinguishers for Trainers and Supervisors

Tailgate Safety Training for Landscaping and Horticultural Services
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Agricultural Safety and Health Program

Objective: Identify the types of fire extinguishers and use them properly.

Trainer’s Note

All fires are not the same. Workers need to know which fire extinguisher to use for each type of fire. For this module:

  • Review the information on the types of fire extinguishers and how to use and maintain them.
  • Point out the placement of all units.
  • Have units available for the training session. Discuss how to read the label, select the proper unit, and how to operate, inspect, and maintain it.
  • Let employees practice using an extinguisher.
  • Review the important points.
  • Have workers take the True/False quiz to check their learning.


Fire extinguishers can put out or control a fire until help arrives. Use portable units as first-aid or emergency units on small fires or in the initial stages of the fire. The discharge time on most portable units is only seconds, so plan an escape route. Stay low and avoid breathing the smoke and extinguishing agent. If the fire starts to spread, get out!


Types of Fire Extinguishers

The universal classification system has different designations for fire extinguishers—class A, B, C, and ABC. Classes are based on the type of fire—that is, what is burning. The type of fire determines the type of extinguishing agent. A good example of a combination fire would be a fire in a greenhouse unit heater, where there is a combination of electricity and flammable heating oils. (A fourth class, Class D, is used for combustible metals, which are usually not found in landscaping and horticultural services.)

Class Symbol Type of Fire
A Green triangle Ordinary combustibles
  • Wood, paper, straw, cloth, rubber, plastics
  • Greenhouse glazing materials (acrylic, polycarbonate, fiberglass reinforced polyester)
B Red square Flammable liquids
  • Gasoline, fertilizers, pesticides, oil, oil-based paint
C Blue circle Energized electrical equipment
  • Wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers
  • Machinery, power tools, generators, unit heaters
ABC   Multipurpose, combination unit can be used on all three types of fires.

Reading the Label

The label shows important facts about the fire extinguisher:     

  • The type of fire it can handle, shown by the letters A, B, and/or C.
  • The size of fire it can handle, shown by numbers.

The bigger the numbers in the unit label, the bigger the fire the unit can handle. For example, a unit labeled 2A can handle a fire twice as big as a 1A unit. A 4A unit can handle a fire twice as big as a 2A unit.

A 2A:20B:C extinguisher will protect up to 3,000 square feet of area where a moderate fire may occur. This could be a storage, display, or shop area. It is also a good unit to carry on a tractor or a pickup truck.


Location and Placement of Fire Extinguishers

The table shows suggested location, number, and placement of fire extinguishers. The units suggested are 20-pound units.

Location Number Suggested Placement
Equipment storage building, chemical storage area, greenhouse, shop, boiler room, outbuildings/headhouses 1 or more Near each exit door
Tractor, car, or truck 2 One near cab door
One at a convenient location 1  

Before You Use the Fire Extinguisher

  • Examine for defects at time of purchase.
  • Read the operating instructions on the label.
  • Find out where fire extinguishers are located.

To Operate a Fire Extinguisher

  • Remove from the mounting bracket by grasping the unit by the carrying handle and the base and carry it to the fire.
  • Pull the locking pin to break the tamper seal. If the unit has a hose, remove the hose from its retaining clip.
  • Move the extinguisher as close to the base of the fire as possible. Grasp the hose in one hand and press or squeeze the handle or trigger release with the other. (If the unit is a CO2 extinguisher, grasping the plastic discharge horn may freeze the hand.) If the unit has no hose, direct the stream of extinguishing agent by moving the extinguisher. If there is no pressure when you squeeze the handle, check the metal piece that is hanging downward and engage it into a groove, then try again to squeeze the handle.
  • Use a side-to-side sweeping motion at the base of the flames starting from the near edge to the rear of the fire and then up the vertical surface.
  • Always leave an escape route when fighting a fire.

Inspection of Fire Extinguishers

Inspect units monthly to ensure good working condition and adequate protection. Rotate the fire extinguisher to keep chemical from caking. Have units inspected annually by a state-certified individual. Inspection should cover these points:

  • Are all extinguishers in their recommended location?
  • Is there enough pressure to discharge the contents of the extinguisher (check the gauge)? Replace or recharge the unit as needed.
  • Is the tamper seal intact?
  • Is the unit damaged?
  • Is the hose and nozzle unobstructed?
  • Is the extinguisher area clear of clutter?

Review These Important Points

  • Be prepared. Read the unit label before you need to use it for a fire.
  • Inspect fire extinguishers monthly for proper functioning.
  • Ensure that all designated locations have a fire extinguisher.
  • In case of fire, evacuate the building first.
  • Call the local fire department.

About These Modules
The author team for the training modules in the landscape and horticultural tailgate training series includes Dee Jepsen, Program Director, Agricultural Safety and Health, Ohio State University Extension; Michael Wonacott, Research Specialist, Vocational Education; Peter Ling, Greenhouse Specialist; and Thomas Bean, Agricultural Safety Specialist. Modules were developed with funding from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, Grant Number 46E3-HT09.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Department of Labor.

Answer Key

1. F 2. F 3. T 4. F 5. T

Quiz: Portable Fire Extinguishers



True or False?

1. Fire extinguishers can be used to fight a major fire.     T     F

2. To put out a fire, aim anywhere in the fire and spray.     T     F

3. Class A fire extinguishers can handle ordinary combustibles.     T     F

4. Any fire extinguisher will put out any fire.     T     F

5. Fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly.     T     F

Originally posted Jun 11, 2018.