Fire can break out at your house even if you’re careful, so preparing ahead can save people and property. It’s a good idea to have fire extinguishers nearby and ready to use. Here’s a brief tutorial to arm yourself against catastrophe.
Types of fire extinguishers and their use
Should a fire break out in your house, fire extinguishers can protect you and your family. Using one might put out a fire, or at least buy you enough time to leave the house. There are several classes of fire extinguishers, each for different types of fires.
- Use Class A extinguishers on common combustible materials such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber and plastics. These extinguishers use water with additives that boost water’s fire suppression effectiveness. Water-based extinguishers should never be used on flammable liquids or electrical fires.
- Class B extinguishers are used on combustible liquids such as gasoline, diesel and grease fires in the kitchen. These use a foam that covers the burning liquid’s surface, suffocating the fire and preventing reignition.
- Class C extinguishers use carbon dioxide or similar gasses to suffocate electrically charged fires. The CO2 gas also prevents water damage to electronic equipment.
- Some A:B:C extinguishers fight all these types of fires.
Other extinguishers are Class D, for flammable metals, and Class K, specifically for kitchen fires.
Where to place extinguishers
Place extinguishers appropriate to the site near potential sources of fire, but not right beside them. If a fire erupts on the stove, for example, the extinguisher should be a few feet away inside a cabinet, not so near that the fire keeps you from reaching it.
How to use the extinguisher
When a fire ignites, staying calm is essential. Do not panic.
If a grease fire ignites in a pan on your stove, you may be able to suffocate it immediately by putting a tight-fitting lid on the pan. (Do not throw water on a grease fire! It will splatter, spread the fire and potentially splash burning grease onto you.) Otherwise, grab an extinguisher. To use it, pull the locking pin from the operating handle. Next, point the extinguisher at the fire’s source and spray, keeping the extinguisher upright. Then sweep side to side over any fire extending from the source until the fire is extinguished.
If you cannot get the fire under control, get all people and pets out of the house. Do not try to save possessions.
While you are fighting the fire, have someone else call 911. If you are alone, fight the fire, but contact 911 immediately if your efforts are unsuccessful.
Maintaining fire extinguishers
Extinguishers have pressure gauges showing readiness status. The needle should remain in the green zone. If it falls below that, the extinguisher must be recharged or replaced. With rechargeable extinguishers, follow manufacturer recommendations for recharging.
The most common sites for house fires
Here are the sites where fire is most likely to erupt in your house and the steps you can take to prevent it.
- The kitchen. The high heat used in cooking poses a risk. Never leave food cooking unattended on the stovetop. If you must leave the kitchen, turn the burner off or have an adult watch while you step away. Keep combustibles like dish towels away from burners and ovens. Don’t let children play near the stove.
- Bedrooms. Overloaded electrical outlets, extension cords and heat sources such as space heaters make bedrooms vulnerable to fire. To make things worse, occupants are often asleep when fire erupts. To prevent bedroom fires, keep space heaters away from beds, curtains and other combustible materials. Don’t overburden electrical outlets and extension cords with plugs from several appliances. Do not run extension cords beneath rugs. Replace worn cords on lamps and other electrical items. And store a retractable fire escape ladder in the upstairs bedrooms.
- Fireplaces. Before lighting your first cozy fire in fall’s chilly weather, have your chimney professionally cleaned. Keep combustible material far from the hearth.
- Clothes dryers. Lint buildup in your dryer vent is another combustion point. Clean the lint screen after each load and schedule regular cleanings of your dryer vent hose. Use a louvered vent cover outside the house, not a wire screen that can clog with accumulated lint.
- Your furnace. Have a professional check your furnace every fall, and keep combustible material away from it.
- Electronic equipment. Wiring behind televisions and audio equipment is vulnerable to fire. Dust can accumulate there, and electrical surges such as lightning strikes can ignite a blaze. Plug electronic equipment into a surge protector and dust regularly.
- Candles. Never leave a lit candle unattended.
- Live Christmas trees.
- Heated hair care appliances.