How to Use Your Fire Extinguisher the Right Way

Posted: November 5, 2019 in Did you know?
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fire_extPersonal safety can mean a lot of things. Maybe you need to be knowledgeable about natural remedies for anxiety to feel at ease. For others, they feel a bit safer knowing the ins and outs of how to fight black mold. And for a few, it could be as simple as figuring out how to get rid of gnats and drain flies. But no matter who you are, you need to know about fire safety. We know, the very idea of a home catching fire is something you’d rather not contemplate, but it’s important to fight that urge and lean into demystifying a common fire-safety item you probably already own: the fire extinguisher. Read on for tips including where to buy a fire extinguisher and what kind of fire extinguisher you need for kitchen fires and grills and also four simple steps to using a fire extinguisher with confidence.

What’s Inside a Fire Extinguisher?

Carbon dioxide extinguishers are responsible for the jet clouds we’re all so familiar with when it comes to fire extinguishers. They work by smothering flames and sucking in heat. Dry-powder extinguishers contain sodium bicarbonate; they, too, smother flames, by denying them oxygen. Class K extinguishers contain a potassium acetate-based compound that foams after being expressed. There are also extinguishers that contain water that’s compressed with air.

What Are the Five Fire Classes?

There are five types, or classes, of fires. Knowing them will help you determine which fire extinguisher you need to buy for your home. Class A fires involve ordinary items like wood, paper, clothing, and trash; Class B is liquids or gases (think grease fires, or gasoline and oil); Class C is electrical fires (think transformers or motors); Class D is metals; and Class K is appliances or cooking oils (think fats, animal oils, or vegetable oils).

Note: While Classes B and K might sound related, don’t be tempted to use a Class B fire extinguisher on Class K fires, or you could make them worse. Always know what type of fire you’re dealing with before you use a fire extinguisher. Using the wrong one could spread the fire, not extinguish it.

When Should I Use a Fire Extinguisher?

You might think the answer to this question is obvious, but there are some things to think about before grabbing the extinguisher. First, make sure that everyone in your home is safe and the exits aren’t blocked by the fire. You should have a clear path to exit behind you (assuming you aren’t using the extinguisher to make a path, that is). If the fire is small and contained to, say, a trash can, you can try to put it out using a fire extinguisher, but don’t hesitate to evacuate if you start to doubt your ability to fight the fire. Fires grow in size and scope fast, and safety is your priority!

If you’re ever faced with a fire, remember one word: PASS!

  1. Pull the safety pin.
  2. Aim the hose at the fire, standing at least six feet away (or as directed by your extinguisher’s label).
  3. Squeeze the trigger.
  4. Sweep the hose back and forth over the fire. Note: Watch your fingers! Keep them away from the CO2 spray, which can burn your fingers.

How Do I Store a Fire Extinguisher?

Fire extinguishers can only be stored up to 120°F, so keep them away from fireplaces and stoves. Most have mounting brackets so they can be elevated out of reach of pets and children.

How Long Do Fire Extinguishers Last Before They Expire?

Most well-maintained fire extinguishers should last 5 to 10 years before they expire. Check for leaks each year and make sure that the pressure gauge is within a normal range—this is the best sign of its usability. If you’ve used it, even for a small fire, you’ll need to take it to your fire department so that they can recharge it or let you know if it needs to be replaced.

How Much Does a Fire Extinguisher Cost?

Most home fire extinguishers cost between $15 to $20 for a single-use extinguisher, or $30 to $80 for a multi-use extinguisher. You should have one on every floor of your home.

What Kind of Fire Extinguisher Should I Buy?

Pick the size of extinguisher you can lift comfortably. Numbers will be paired with the "Class" letters on the label, and this will tell you what size fire the extinguisher is made for. The higher the number, the larger the fire it can extinguish.

For the kitchen: Purchase a 5-pound extinguisher for Class A-B-C or B and K fires.

For a wooden shed in the backyard: Class A.

For bedrooms or other living areas: Class A.

For an outdoor grill: Purchase a dry-powder Class B-C fire extinguisher.

For the car: Purchase a small disposable extinguisher.

Where Can I Buy a Fire Extinguisher?

Find the right fire extinguisher for your home at your local home-improvement store or online. Common brands are Amerex, First Alert, Kidde, and Firestop, among others.

How Do I Dispose of a Fire Extinguisher?

If you’ve used your fire extinguisher, it’s damaged in any way, or it’s expired, you’ll need to properly dispose of it. First, call your local fire department. You may be able to bring it in for safe disposal. If you’ve used the extinguisher fully and you’re sure it’s empty, you can call your local recycling center and ask about dropping off the empty steel shell.

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