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The ABCs of Fire Extinguishers – What You Need to Know

It might seem hard to believe, but there are some people that feel fire extinguishers are not a valuable fire protection method. The fact is, most people have limited knowledge of fire extinguishers and their intended use. A fire extinguisher can certainly be a lifesaver.

 

There are numerous factors to consider when selecting the proper fire extinguisher.  Selection, location, servicing, and training are the key elements of utilizing fire extinguishers to their full capacity.

The selection process is a vital part of making sure you have the proper fire extinguisher for its intended use and environment.  Every household fire extinguisher is labeled with a class such as A, B, or C, which tells you the types of fire the extinguisher is effective against.

  • A is used on ordinary combustibles like wood, paper, and cloth.
  • B is for flammable liquids, such as gasoline or cooking oil.
  • C is effective on live electricity.

The main distinction among home extinguishers is size. In most cases, bigger is better, but sometimes the biggest extinguishers are too heavy to maneuver. The weight on an extinguisher refers to the amount of chemical inside; the canister adds several more pounds.  The size helps determine the location of the extinguisher.

  • 10-pound - garage or home workshop, where a fire might grow in size before being noticed
  • 5-pound – quick grab in the kitchen or laundry room
  • 2-pound – vehicles

The National Fire Protection Association (www.nfpa.org) recommends an extinguisher for each floor. Extinguishers should be placed near an exit and in an easy-to-grab spot.

Servicing of fire extinguishers is crucial to make sure the fire protection equipment will perform in an emergency situation. All extinguishers are required to receive annual maintenance by a professional licensed and certified agent for commercial buildings. Most homeowners can read their pressure gauges to see if an extinguisher should be serviced.  NFPA 10 recommends all fire extinguishers be serviced on an annual basis.

The final step is making sure users are properly trained on how to utilize the fire extinguishers before an emergency arises. You can also check with your fire department to see if they offer homeowner training. To help recall how to use an extinguisher, remember the acronym PASS:

Pull the extinguisher’s safety pin.

Aim the chemical at the source of the flames rather than at the flames themselves, standing at least six feet from the fire (or as directed on the extinguisher’s label).

Squeeze the trigger and hold it, keeping the extinguisher upright.

Sweep the source of the flames until the extinguisher runs dry.

Whenever you have used an extinguisher, whether or not it is completely empty, you must replace it or refill it right away. The same rule applies to any extinguisher where the pressure gauge has slipped out of the green zone into red over time. Fire extinguisher companies charge about $15 to refill a typical 5-pound A, B, or C extinguisher provided it has a metal valve. Extinguishers with plastic valves are not refillable and should be discarded after use.

A fire extinguisher is an active fire protection to extinguish or control small fires, often in emergency situations. It is not intended for use on an out-of-control fire where the user is endangered (i.e., no escape route, smoke, explosion hazard, etc.), or when the expertise of the fire department is required.  All things considered, it’s better to have access to an operable fire extinguisher than not. This inexpensive fire protection could perhaps prevent a small fire from growing in size or causing major property damage. Ultimately, it may even save a life.

Regardless of how many extinguishers you have, nothing can substitute for the most important safety tool: a fire plan. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to get out in a hurry, where to meet outside, and how to call 911. Even if you think you’ve put out the fire on your own, don’t cancel that emergency call. Leave it to the pros to decide if the fire is really out.

Posted 5:58 AM  View Comments

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