By Amy Howell Hirt
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Most everyone knows that your household needs a portable fire extinguisher, but do you know when or how to use it? Consider Fire Prevention Week in October a yearly reminder to review the basics of buying and using a home fire extinguisher. It just might save your life.

Buying a Fire Extinguisher
Did you know that not all fire extinguishers will put out all types of fires? Since different types of fires need different types of extinguishers, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends homeowners choose a multi-purpose extinguisher, labeled as Class A-B or Class A-B-C.

Choose a model that is "large enough to put out a small fire, but not so heavy as to be difficult to handle," the NFPA suggests. Consumer Reports recommends buying "the largest one that everyone in the household can comfortably handle."

Be sure to read the instructions and become familiar with your extinguishers parts and operation and regarding maintenance. Many fire departments will offer hands-on training; check with your local firefighting organization to see if this is offered in your area.

Storing Fire Extinguishers
Store one multipurpose fire extinguisher on each level of your home and in the garage, plus a smaller, supplemental unit for the kitchen. The National Safety Council recommends storing fire extinguishers close to an exit in an easily accessible location. Do not store fire extinguishers at the back of a crowded cabinet or blocked by furniture—remember, you're going to be reaching for this during an emergency situation.

How to use a Fire Extinguisher
If there is a fire in your home, make sure that everyone has evacuated and that 911 has been called. Then, assess whether or not it is safe to attempt to extinguish the fire via a portable extinguisher. Do not attempt to extinguish the fire if the room is filled with smoke, if you cannot maintain a clear exit or if the fire has spread beyond a small, contained area. Every extinguisher has a limited amount of extinguishing material, which may not be sufficient for larger, growing fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

If you feel you can safely control the fire, begin using the extinguisher, maintaining a clear exit route. To operate it properly, use the memory device "PASS":

  • Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you, and release the locking mechanism.
  • Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side.
Fire Extinguisher 101

Equally important? Know when to get out. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately—the majority of fire-related injuries (34%) occurred when the victim was attempting to control the fire.


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