A fire is a fire, and a fire extinguisher is a fire extinguisher, right? Well, not quite. There are actually different types of fires and different types of extinguishers that respond best to each one. So, which is right for you?
We’ll get to that, but first let’s look at the five different fire types, as outlined by the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association:
- Class A: Fires in ordinary combustibles, such as wood, paper, cloth, etc.
- Class B: Fires in flammable liquids, like gasoline, or flammable gasses, such as propane.
- Class C: Fires in energized electrical equipment, such as appliances or motors.
- Class D: Fires in combustible metals.
- Class K: Fires in cooking oils and greases, such as animal and vegetable fats.
Selecting a Fire Extinguisher
For each fire class, there’s a fire extinguisher to match, and it’s important to use the right one. For example, an extinguisher rated for Class B fires only might not be appropriate to use on another fire. In fact, it might even be dangerous.
So, how do you pick a fire extinguisher? Do you need several? A good bet is a multipurpose extinguisher, which typically is rated for Class A, B and C fires and available at home improvement stores. This type of extinguisher is typically good for general living areas and will work on small grease fires, which may occur in your garage or kitchen. Specialized kitchen extinguishers are available, too. (Note: Class K extinguishers are typically for large commercial kitchens.)
No matter which type you choose, you want:
- An extinguisher that’s large enough to put out a small fire but not too heavy to handle safely.
- One that carries the label of an independent testing laboratory.
- One for each level of your home, as well as in the garage.
Using a Fire Extinguisher
Before you use a fire extinguisher — or try to fight a fire with any method — make sure you consider the following questions:
- Is the fire small and contained?
- Are you safe from toxic smoke?
- Do you have a way to escape?
- Do your instincts tell you it’s OK?
If you've answered "no" to any of these questions, leave the area and dial 911 immediately. If you’ve answered “yes” to those questions, the National Fire Protection Association recommends remembering “P.A.S.S.” when it’s time to use your extinguisher:
- Pull the pin.
- Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the lever.
- Sweep the hose from side to side. Once the fire is out, remain aware, because it can re-ignite.
Maintaining a Fire Extinguisher
It’s easy to just put an extinguisher in your kitchen cabinet and forget about it. But, by doing that, you run the risk of it not working when you need it most.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, some need to be shaken monthly, and others need to be pressure tested periodically. Follow the instructions on your specific extinguisher. Also, check regularly to make sure it’s not damaged, rusted or dirty.
Remember, a fire extinguisher won’t do you any good if it doesn’t work, and it won’t help if you can’t get to it, either. So, ensure it’s in an accessible place, not buried in the back of a closet or immediately next to the stovetop cooking area.
Finally, don’t ever forget that sometimes your best bet is not using an extinguisher at all. It’s using your family escape plan to get you and your loved ones out of danger. If there’s any doubt, get out!