Do you have a fire extinguisher in your home? Do you know how to use it? If you’ll learn about fire extinguishers, buy one (or more), try using a fire extinguisher, and then maintain your fire extinguisher, you will be able to put out small fires if you need to.
1. Learn about them.
Fires are classified into four different types, depending on what’s on fire.
A (green triangle) – wood, paper, cloth, trash, plastics (“ordinary combustibles”)
(red square) – flammable liquids, including gas, paint, petroleum, and propane
C (blue circle) – energized electrical equipment, including motors, transformers, and appliances
D (yellow star) – combustible metals, including potassium, sodium, aluminum, and magnesium
K (black hexagon) – cooking oils and greases, including animal and vegetable fats
There are many different types of extinguishers, but the most common type is a “Dry chemical” extinguisher, which can be used on A, B, and C fires. “Wet chemical” extinguishers can be used on type K fires. It is important not to use the wrong type of extinguisher, because it could make a fire worse or create new hazards.
Fire extinguishers are rated and labeled with numbers and letters. The number before the A, if multiplied by 1.25 will tell you the extinguisher’s equivalent to gallons of water. The number before the B tells the size of the fire in square feet that the extinguisher should be able to put out. There is no number before the letter C; it just means that the extinguisher will not conduct electricity.
2. Buy one (or more)!
It’s a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher in a central area of your house. If you have a very large home, you may want more than one fire extinguisher. You may also want to place a fire extinguisher in your garage or workshop. There are also small fire extinguishers made for cars, as part of a vehicle emergency kit. Keeping a fire extinguisher in your home may lower your home insurance premium; check with your insurance agent.
3. Use one.
“PASS” is a simple acronym to help you remember how to use a fire extinguisher.
Pull the pin.
Aim the hose at the base of the fire.
Squeeze the lever.
Sweep the nozzle from side to side. Begin from a safe distance and gradually move closer as the fire is extinguished.
I had the opportunity to use a fire extinguisher on a controlled fire as part of a CERT training activity. Consider participating in a local CERT program, or contact your local fire department to see if they offer any opportunities for members of the community to learn to use fire extinguishers. If you cannot do this, at a very minimum, practice the steps without removing the pin or squeezing the lever. Fire extinguishers are heavier than you would expect, and you will find this to be a worthwhile exercise.
IMPORTANT: fire extinguishers are intended to control small fires. If a fire has reached the ceiling, do not try to use a fire extinguisher. Get out!
If you actually need to control a fire, FIRST pull a fire alarm, and call 911. SECOND, assist anyone who needs help getting out. THIRD, use an extinguisher to control the fire, if it still seems safe to do so.
Buying a fire extinguisher is not enough—you need to maintain it. If you don’t maintain your extinguisher, you could go to use it and have nothing happen, or a pressure problem could cause the extinguisher to explode. This actually does happen! One time, when I was working at a small restaurant, the fire extinguisher in the kitchen exploded! They had to close the restaurant for several days while they cleaned the kitchen. It made a huge mess.
Each month, check to make sure that your fire extinguisher is where it belongs. Be sure that it is accessible. Also check the gauge to be sure the pressure is correct. By regulation, fire extinguishers must be maintained annually by a service person. If you are maintaining a fire extinguisher for a business or public place, you will definitely want to do that. If you are maintaining a small, personal fire extinguisher, it may be more cost-efficient to simply replace your fire extinguisher following the manufacturer’s recommendations.