By Leslie Scanlon from October 2013 Issue
What you need to know about how fire extinguishers can protect you and your family
Some things we rush out and buy, then leave hidden in closets. Other things we put off purchasing even though they could save our lives. Do yourself (and your loved ones) a favor—after checking the batteries in your smoke detectors, put fire extinguishers at the top of your shopping list.
Fire extinguishers can be disposable (for one-time use) or rechargeable (can be refilled after each use). Some models have gauges that indicate whether the pressure is sufficient.
If you already own a fire extinguisher, inspect it to make sure it's in proper working order. Review the label's directions for use, follow the manufacturer's instructions for checking the pressure level to make sure it's fully charged—and keep it in plain sight so you can grab it when you need it.
Extinguishers are designed for different kinds of fires
Household fire extinguishers carry labels showing what kind of fire they can be used to combat. Extinguishers marked A are for ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, or cloth; B is for flammable liquids (including grease, gasoline, oil-based paint, some solvents); and C is for fires sparking from tools, appliances, or electrical wiring or devices.
For home use, fire safety officials recommend a multi-purpose extinguisher, labeled ABC, that's good for all three classes of fires. Using the wrong type of extinguisher on a fire can make things worse.
Extinguishers are also labeled and rated for the size of fire they can handle. The higher the number is, the greater the firefighting capacity—but also the greater the weight. Choose one that's powerful enough, but not too heavy for you to pick up and use.
The National Fire Protection Association recommends having a fire extinguisher for each floor of the house (plus a practiced escape plan and working smoke detectors). Install the extinguisher in plain view, high enough so children can't reach it, and near an exit. Use the extinguisher with your back to the exit so you can dash out the door if the fire expands.
Think ahead about how to react to a fire
Educate yourself ahead of time so you'll know how to operate a fire extinguisher when you need it. Some communities and employers offer fire extinguisher training courses.
The National Fire Protection Association suggests memorizing the word PASS, to remember the proper steps:
Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you, and release the locking mechanism.
Aim low. Point the nozzle at the base of the fire.
Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
Sweep the nozzle from side to side.
Fire extinguishers are intended to snuff out small, contained blazes. Don't take chances. For a bigger fire, or one that's spreading, get people and pets outside—and call 911.