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Fire Extinguishers: Everything You Need to Know Before Buying One



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Fire extinguishers can prevent minor accidents from turning into major disasters. Whether starting with a pan of oil left to smoke while you watch the kids or an attached curling iron standing next to a curtain, small fires aren̵

7;t that uncommon in the modern household. But fire can spread quickly – and a scorched curtain or blackened pan is nothing compared to a badly damaged home.

Fortunately, if you have the right kind, in the right place, at the right time, fire extinguishers can help stop that escalation. The problem is, many of us don’t know much about when and how to use fire extinguishers – if we even have one.

That’s where we come in. Here are all your questions about fire extinguishers answered.

Are there different types of fire extinguishers?

You bet there are. When you buy fire extinguishers, they come with ratings (A, B, C, D and K) that correspond to the fires that the model puts out. Here’s a basic overview of each letter that stands for:

A: Burning wood, cotton and fabric

B: Flammable liquids (cooking sprays, gasoline, etc.)

C: Fires due to live electricity

D: Flammable metals

K: Cooking oils (restaurants must have these types)

Some extinguishers can extinguish different types of fires. It is not uncommon for some to have A, B and C capabilities. It indicates that they can extinguish all common household fires.

In addition, Underwriters Laboratories measures the effectiveness of each extinguisher in relation to the type of fire they are extinguishing. If you read a label, it could say the device has a rating of 3 A. The higher the numerical rating, the more effective it is in extinguishing some type of fire.

Does weight matter?

Fire extinguishers come in different sizes. In general, the heavier it is, the more extinguishing power it provides. Handling a 10-pound model in the middle of an already chaotic moment may be a little more than you want to handle. Finding the right balance between size and functionality is important – and the right choice largely depends on how comfortable you are handling it.

For specific areas, consider smaller units such as 5-pound canisters for the kitchen. These are easier to grip and maneuver, making it easier to put out a small fire. Some even attach above the stove. If you go this route, buy one with pressurized cans that pop open in the heat of the flames, releasing baking soda.

You can also buy even smaller (2-pound models) for your vehicle. It’s a wise option to have on hand in case your car’s engine catches fire.

How many extinguishers should I have at home?

You should have at least one near your kitchen, which is where the most common home fires start. If you live in a multi-level home, consider having one for every level of your home. In addition to placing one in the kitchen, you should also have one at the exit of your home. It can guarantee a safer retreat if the flames are close to your home’s entry points.

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It is best to have a fire extinguisher on hand when you are cooking, even when you are outside.

Josh Miller / CNET

How do I use them?

Use the PASS method to put out a fire. For starters, you’ll want to be 6 to 8 feet from the flame. Then remove the pin to operate. Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire and then squeeze the handle. While discharging, use a sweeping motion (think left to right) to extinguish the flame.

After the fire has gone out, keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t restart. And if it does then follow the same steps.

If the fire gets out of control, the best way to get to safety is to have emergency services help fight the flame.

How long do extinguishers last?

Some household fire extinguishers contain dry chemicals. These chemicals can lose their charge over time. Furthermore, on units with compressed gas, the seals loosen over time, resulting in leaks.

You can determine it how long your unit lasts by examining the expiration date on the tag. Most models last anywhere from five to fifteen years. And on some models, you can have them professionally charged to extend their life.

To see if your extinguisher is in working order, you should inspect the pressure gauge (if applicable) on the top of the extinguisher. If the needle is in the green area it should work. Looking ahead, set a time every month to inspect the pressure gauge. Doing this will ensure that your model works when you need it most.

Are extinguishers rechargeable?

There are several types of extinguishers available. Some are single use. After you discharge them, you will need to replace the unit as they will not be fully operational as intended for an emergency.

Meanwhile, some models have charging capabilities. With this, you should charge them as soon as you use them or during long periods of inactivity. To do this, a certified firefighting equipment dealer must do the charging for you. You can use this directory to find a dealer near you.

Other Considerations

Some extinguishers (with cartridge control and carbon dioxide) do not have gauges. For units with pattern control, check the indicator to make sure it is pushed in. Meanwhile, in the case of carbon dioxide models, weigh the unit and then compare the weight with the information on the label. If there is a substantial difference, it indicates that your extinguisher may be empty.

Another part of the monthly inspection involves checking the seals. Inspect it to make sure it holds the clevis pin and has no damage.

You also want to check the hose for damage or signs of leakage. If you notice anything and the model can be charged, take it to a certified specialist for repair.

You can also protect your home and your loved ones with these helpful guides:

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