Fire Extinguishers

It is recommended that every home have at least one fire extinguisher, preferably in the kitchen. If possible, one should be located on each floor of the house as well as in potential combustion areas, like the garage, furnace room and storage rooms. Choosing the right kind of fire extinguisher is also important.

Fire extinguishers are specified by size, class and rating. Size is defined as the weight of the fire-fighting compound an extinguisher contains. The fire extinguishing compound is also referred to as the “charge”; it typically amounts to 50% of the total weight of the extinguisher unit. The proper sizing for an average size home is in the two and a half to five pounds range (total weight of the extinguisher then being 5 to 10 lbs).

Class is defined as what kind of fire an extinguisher can put out, as specified in the letter A, B or C. The best for home use is an all purpose Class A:B:C.

Class A puts out fires involving regular combustible materials like wood, cloth and paper. Class B is for use on fires with combustible liquids, like oil, gasoline and grease, while Class C is for usage on electrical fires. A combination Class B:C fire extinguisher will put out grease fires better than an all purpose one, so this type is recommended in a kitchen.

Rating measures how effective the extinguisher is on fighting different classes of fire, higher being better. For example an all purpose fire extinguisher might be rated 5A:30B:C. This means that that extinguisher has the same extinguishing capability as 5 gallons of water, and can put out 30 square feet of electrical fire; the C class extinguishers do not carry ratings. Another thing to consider is that small fire extinguishers are easier to handle in a confined space, so having more than one small extinguisher in a kitchen, for example, is a good idea.

Your fire extinguisher should have a pressure gauge dial on it; this lets you check to make sure the unit has enough pressure to put out a fire; the gauge should be checked once a month. If the pressure gauge reading indicates that pressure is low, you need to take it in to be recharged, either at the shop you bought it from, or a local fire department.

An extinguisher should also be recharged after any use, even if it was only a few seconds. The label on a fire extinguisher also displays a service life date, after which it should be replaced, so be aware of this as well.

Installation and Use

A fire extinguisher is best located near a doorway in plain sight, not in a closet or in an out of the way corner where it can be overlooked during an emergency. The mounting bracket should be firmly attached to the wall studs using long wood screws. Install using the quick-release mounting bracket that came with the fire extinguisher to allow for maximum access. The proper height for a fire extinguisher to be mounted is four to five feet above the level of the floor; this should be high enough to be out of the reach of young children but within easy reach of all other occupants.

The occupants of the home should be familiar with how to use your fire extinguisher properly. Follow these steps:

1. You should be standing six to ten feet from the fire, with your back facing the nearest exit.
2. Hold the extinguisher in an upright position.
3. Pull the lock pin from the handle.
4. Aim the nozzle at the base of the flame.
5. Squeeze the handle and sweep the nozzle back and forth so that the fire becomes blanketed with retardant and is extinguished.
6. Check that flames do not spontaneously rekindle, and re-spray if required.

If you cannot get close enough to the fire, six to ten feet away, due to excessive heat or space constraints, then do not attempt to extinguish it. Evacuate and call the fire department. Your family should establish emergency escape plans and keep at least one escape route clear at all times.

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