Fire Extinguishers - Be Ready

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Remember, in the case of an actual fire call 911 immediately.

Do you have a fire extinguisher?  More importantly, do you know how to use it?  Do you know what type of extinguisher you have, and what types of fires it's capable of putting out?  How about how much fire your extinguisher can handle?  Is your fire extinguisher where you can easily and quickly get to it if you need it?

Knowing the answers to these questions can mean the difference between putting out a fire when it's small and losing your home or worse.  Take a look at our tip-sheet on Fire Extinguishers [PDF, 161Kb] to learn or review some basic use and safety procedures, as well as what to look for when purchasing an extinguisher.  Some basic tips and facts:

Types of extinguishers
There are five main types of fire extinguishers, each used on a different type of fire:
• Class A is for ordinary combustibles, such as wood, paper, cloth, etc.  These may be water or dry chemical.
• Class B is for flammable liquids, such as cooking oils or fuel.  These are usually dry chemical or CO2.
• Class C is non-conductive, and therefore usable on energized electrical components such as televisions or computers.  If the component is unplugged AND has no other power source (such as batteries), Class C is not necessary.  This type of extinguisher is always found in combination with other types, as the C merely indicates that the extinguishing agent is non-conductive.
• Class D is highly specialized and never found in combination with other types.  It is usable on combustible metals, such as magnesium and titanium, and is usually found in chemical laboratories or fabrication shops.  These extinguishers usually contain a special agent that interrupts the chemical chain reaction of combustion.
• Class K is a newer class that is usually found in commercial kitchens, usable on cooking oils (including some with which Class B may not be effective).

The numerical rating of a fire extinguisher indicates how much fire the extinguisher can put out.  A 1A5BC extinguisher can put out one "unit" of Class A fire (the amount that 1.25 gallons of water can extinguish) and five square feet of Class B fire.  A 2A10BC will last twice as long on both types of fire.  When selecting an extinguisher for purchase, get the largest one that you can afford AND can reasonably manage - if it's too big for you to handle, it won't do you any good!  Keep in mind that a 4A20BC extinguisher is the common "large size" seen in many commercial establishments, while a 1A5BC is the small, compact one that fits nicely under a car seat.

When deciding where to keep your fire extinguisher, think about where you spend time in your home and what you do that is likely to cause a fire.  Kitchens, garages, and backyard sheds are all ideal places, as well as areas easily accessible to living areas and bedrooms.  Every home should have at least two extinguishers kept in common, easy to reach areas for quick access when needed.

Also keep an extinguisher in your vehicle, in a place that you can easily reach from inside the passenger space, such as under the driver's seat (mount it so it doesn't roll out and under the pedals) or mounted behind the center console.  The trunk is not a good idea - think about all the items you commonly transport in your trunk that could block access to the extinguisher, such as groceries or the kids' sports equipment, as well as items you keep in your trunk such as vehicle breakdown kits or disaster kits.

Using a fire extinguisher
Remember PASS: pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep.  Pull the pin, aim the nozzle at the base of the fire (never up in the flames - the idea is to stop the fuel source from burning), firmly squeeze the handle, and sweep the nozzle back and forth across the fire's base (side-to-side, front-to-back, or up-and-down as appropriate).  Familiarize yourself with your extinguisher and do practice drills (pretend to pull the pin out for your drills so that you don't accidentally discharge your extinguisher).  Make sure to include your entire family in these drills so that everyone is familiar, regardless of who needs to use it if the time comes.

Also make sure that you know the range of your extinguisher.  Get too close to the flames, and you put yourself in danger.  Stay too far away, and your extinguisher will be ineffective.  Most household ABC extinguishers have a maximum effective range of 5-20 feet.  ALWAYS keep yourself between the fire and a safe exit, so that if the fire gets too big or your extinguisher runs out, you can still get out safely.

While you might not need to completely empty the extinguisher to put out the fire, don't stop until you are sure that the fire is out.  Once it's extinguished, back away from the fire and keep your eye on it to ensure that it doesn't flare up again.

Just like any other piece of equipment, fire extinguishers need to be maintained to ensure their effectiveness and safety.  Have it inspected by a certified technician once a year.  If you ever use it (even only partially), get it recharged and inspected right away before putting it back into service.  Extinguishers are pretty tough and can withstand earthquakes, falls/drops, banging, etc., but particularly traumatic events such as serious car crashes may warrant an inspection.  Minor dents (no bigger than a quarter) and small scratches are not indicators of serious traumatic damage.

For more information, visit the following websites (links will open in a new window):

National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA), Safety Information for Consumers

United States Fire Administration 

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