Despite technical advance-ments made in firefighting, one fire suppression tactic that has generally remained the same in some way is to “put the wet stuff on the red stuff” to effectively control, contain, and extinguish a fire. The 212-gallon water extinguisher (“the can”)1 helps in achieving quickly many if not all the above objectives by cooling and penetrating burning ordinary combustible materials.

With a weight of about 30 pounds full and a discharge distance range of between 45 and 55 feet,2 consider this an initial attack tool in many of your department`s operations, especially for structural firefighting.


Controlling. You can use the 212-inch extinguisher on furniture fires involving items such as mattresses, dressers, and couches. You can also use it on smoldering fires that have extended into the wall cavity on the floor above the fire while you wait for the hoseline to be placed into operation for final extinguishment.

Containing. Use the can to knock down the fire around a door leading to the fire area. With the fire knocked down and using a tool such as a six-foot hook (or pike pole, in some departments), halligan, or other similar tool, you can then close the door in many cases. When closed, it may allow rescue efforts to continue past the fire area.

Extinguishing. In certain cases, instead of stretching a hoseline, you can use the 212-gallon extinguisher to extinguish trash can, small brush, and similar fires.

Multipurpose. The can is useful as a door chock or to vent windows using its base (however, use extreme care not to damage the extinguisher; thoroughly inspect it and test it before reuse).


Remember, this type of extinguisher is recommended for use on Class A ordinary combustible-type fires such as wood, paper, rubber, and many plastics. It is not recommended for Class B flammable liquid and gas-type fires, Class C electrical fires, or Class D combustible metal fires.

To use this tool to control, contain, or extinguish a fire, hold it upright, pull the pin out of the discharge lever, grasp the hose near the tip with one hand, and with the other hand hold and squeeze the discharge lever, directing the stream at the base of the fire.

When the maximum cooling effect is desired over penetration (for example, initially on a smoldering brush fire), place a gloved finger over the discharge tip to produce a spray pattern.

By initially using a spray pattern, you can reduce the chances of burning lightweight debris such as leaves and papers becoming airborne and possibly starting new spot fires.

This tool is generally carried by the discharge lever. However, another method (the one I prefer) is to secure a carrying strap to the extinguisher. This will allow you to carry the extinguisher over a shoulder and frees one hand, which you can then use to hold onto a railing or carry another tool. Since the extinguisher can generally be emptied in about 45 to 50 seconds2, use short bursts when trying to control or contain a large fire that will ultimately require a hoseline for complete extinguishment.

Do use all of the water in the extinguisher unless a life is in imminent danger or a hoseline is not yet placed into operation. Leave a few bursts in the extinguisher as a safety margin to quickly cool a burned victim or firefighter. These bursts can also be used to protect a member still searching under high heat conditions.

For prolonged operations in below-freezing temperatures, place all water extinguishers in a heated area on the apparatus.

Use caution–the contents inside the extinguisher are under pressure, generally about 100 psi, and have a temperature range be-tween about 407F and 1007F.3 Therefore, if the extinguisher (full, partially full, or empty) is subjected to extreme heat or cold, it possibly could rupture and cause severe injury.

For the simple, sometimes overlooked, reasons given above, the 212-gallon water extinguisher (3) is useful at many incidents as an invaluable initial attack tool. However, for maximum effectiveness, remember these key points if considering including this tool in your department`s standard operating procedures.

Most important, know this tool`s limitations.

Always wear full protective clothing, including eye protection, when using this tool.

For rapid deployment, place this tool in an approved holder mounted in a readily accessible safe location on the exterior of your apparatus, such as the front bumper, the rear step, or a dedicated side compartment without doors. n


1. This is a term used within the Fire Department of New York. If a firefighter is assigned “the can” position, he generally carries the can and a six-foot hook. This member is part of the forcible entry team along with “the irons” member and an officer.

2. Amerex Corporation Hand Portable and Wheeled Fire Extinguishers Specifications CATSP-96Q.

3. For further information on this tool, see NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers.

Note: The information and views expressed in this article are meant for informational purposes only and are based on my actual field experiences and research. The material does not necessarily reflect the views of other firefighters or manufacturers of water extinguishers. I recommend you seek legal and safety advice before attempting to act on any of the above information or applying it in the field.

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Click here to enlarge image

(Left) If you are met with fire at the door, a 212-gallon water extinguisher can be used to knock it down. Using another tool, a firefighter can gain control of the door and close it while waiting for a hoseline. This tactic may allow fleeing occupants from the upper floor to continue exiting via interior stairs. (Photos by author.) (Bottom) When compatible with fire conditions, the 212- gallon water extinguisher is a viable alternative to stretching a hoseline, as in the case of an outdoor trash can fire.

Click here to enlarge image

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(Far left) If not needed to combat the fire inside, a 212-gallon water extinguisher is useful as a door chock. Note the carrying sling, which allows you to carry the tool on your shoulder. (Left) The extinguisher may also be used to vent a window. Be sure to inspect the extinguisher for damage before reuse.

Click here to enlarge image

Click here to enlarge image

(Left) Using a gloved finger to create a spray pattern creates the maximum cooling effect. This tactic can be used in initially combating trash can and brush fires. (Right) Several securely mounted 212-gallon water extinguishers are kept in a dedicated open compartment. This allows the tool to be grabbed quickly, and its high visibility reminds firefighters that more than one “can” is available.

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Using a carrying sling on an extinguisher frees one hand, allowing the firefighter to carry another tool or hold on to a railing when climbing stairs.

n HARRY J. OSTER has been a career firefighter with the Fire Department of New York for more than 11 years and is assigned to Ladder 49 in the South Bronx. He has an associate`s degree in fire protection technology.

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