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Include Fire Extinguishers in Your Home Safety Plans

fire extinguisher

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), an unwanted fire occurs every 10 seconds. Every year in the U.S. more than 2,500 people die and another 13,000 are injured in home fires.

Whether you live in a house, condo or apartment, there are steps you can take to avoid becoming a grim statistic. In addition to installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of your home, you should have a fire extinguisher available as well. They're not that expensive and could mean the difference between a small fire and complete destruction and loss of life.

Different types of fire extinguishers

There are fire extinguishers available for various fire types. Underwriters Laboratories has classified fire extinguishers into four categories:

  • Type A: For use on fires involving combustible materials such as wood, cloth and paper.
  • Type B: For use on flammable or combustible liquid fires, including gas, kerosene, oil and kitchen grease. (Note: Never use water to extinguish this type of fire – it will only spread the flames.)
  • Type C: For use on fires involving energized electrical equipment.
  • Type ABC: For use on all types of fires listed above.

PASS your fire extinguisher

A home fire extinguisher is intended to put out fires confined to a small area. If the fire is spreading and you can't completely extinguish it, get out and make sure your local fire department is notified. If you do use your fire extinguisher, the American Red Cross wants you to remember P.A.S.S.:

  • Pull the pin on your fire extinguisher.
  • Aim the fire extinguisher at the base of the flames.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side.

For your home

In your home, you'll want to select a multi-purpose extinguisher that can be used on all types of fires. You'll want the extinguisher to be large enough to put out a small fire, but not so large as to be difficult to handle.

  • Read the instructions that come with the fire extinguisher, and become familiar with its parts and operation before a fire breaks out. Local fire departments or fire equipment distributors often offer hands-on fire extinguisher trainings.
  • Install fire extinguishers close to an exit. If you have a fire, keep your back to a clear exit when you use the extinguisher so you can quickly escape if the fire cannot be controlled. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately.
  • Know when to go. Fire extinguishers are one element of a fire response plan, but the primary element is safe escape. Every household should have a home fire escape plan and working smoke alarms.
  • Periodically inspect your extinguishers to determine if they need to be recharged or replaced. Extinguishers need to be recharged or replaced after each use — even if you haven't used the entire extinguishing agent.

No matter which type of fire extinguisher you buy, make sure its pressure indicator shows "full" and that it was manufactured within the last year. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that dry chemical extinguishers that are intended to be discarded after use should be disposed of 12 years after the date of manufacture.

For more information about home fires and how you can better protect your family, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website.

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