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Fire Extinguishers

With so many fire extinguishers to choose from, selecting the proper one for your home can be a daunting task. Everyone should have at least one fire extinguisher at home, but it's just as important to ensure you have the proper type of fire extinguisher. Fire protection experts recommend one for the kitchen, the garage and workshop.

Fire extinguishers are divided into four categories, based on different types of fires. Each fire extinguisher also has a numerical rating that serves as a guide for the amount of fire the extinguisher can handle. The higher the number, the more fire-fighting power. The following is a quick guide to help choose the right type of extinguisher.

Fire Extinguisher
  • Class A extinguishers are for ordinary combustible materials such as paper, wood, cardboard, and most plastics. The numerical rating on these types of extinguishers indicates the amount of water it holds and the amount of fire it can extinguish. Geometric symbol (green triangle)
  • Class B fires involve flammable or combustible liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, grease and oil. The numerical rating for class B extinguishers indicates the approximate number of square feet of fire it can extinguish. Geometric symbol (red square)
  • Class C fires involve electrical equipment, such as appliances, wiring, circuit breakers and outlets. Never use water to extinguish class C fires - the risk of electrical shock is far too great! Class C extinguishers do not have a numerical rating. The C classification means the extinguishing agent is non-conductive. Geometric symbol (blue circle)
  • Class D fire extinguishers are commonly found in a chemical laboratory. They are for fires that involve combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, potassium and sodium. These types of extinguishers also have no numerical rating, nor are they given a multi-purpose rating - they are designed for class D fires only. Geometric symbol (Yellow Decagon)
  • Class K fire extinguishers are for fires that involve cooking oils, trans-fats, or fats in cooking appliances and are typically found in restaurant and cafeteria kitchens. Geometric symbol (black hexagon)

Some fires may involve a combination of these classifications. Your fire extinguishers should have ABC ratings on them.

Here are the most common types of fire extinguishers:

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  • Water extinguishers or APW extinguishers (air-pressurized water) are suitable for class A fires only. Never use a water extinguisher on grease fires, electrical fires or class D fires - the flames will spread and make the fire bigger! Water extinguishers are filled with water and are typically pressurized with air. Again - water extinguishers can be very dangerous in the wrong type of situation. Only fight the fire if you're certain it contains ordinary combustible materials only.
  • Dry chemical extinguishers come in a variety of types and are suitable for a combination of class A, B and C fires. These are filled with foam or powder and pressurized with nitrogen.
    • BC - This is the regular type of dry chemical extinguisher. It is filled with sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate. The BC variety leaves a mildly corrosive residue which must be cleaned immediately to prevent any damage to materials.
    • ABC - This is the multipurpose dry chemical extinguisher. The ABC type is filled with monoammonium phosphate, a yellow powder that leaves a sticky residue that may be damaging to electrical appliances such as a computer

Dry chemical extinguishers have an advantage over CO2 extinguishers since they leave a non-flammable substance on the extinguished material, reducing the likelihood of re-ignition.

  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extinguishers are used for class B and C fires. CO2 extinguishers contain carbon dioxide, a non-flammable gas, and are highly pressurized. The pressure is so great that it is not uncommon for bits of dry ice to shoot out the nozzle. They don't work very well on class A fires because they may not be able to displace enough oxygen to put the fire out, causing it to re-ignite.

CO2 extinguishers have an advantage over dry chemical extinguishers since they don't leave a harmful residue - a good choice for an electrical fire on a computer or other favorite electronic device such as a stereo or TV.

It is vital to know what type of extinguisher you are using. Using the wrong type of extinguisher for the wrong type of fire can be life-threatening.

These are only the common types of fire extinguishers. There are many others to choose from. Base your selection on the classification and the extinguisher's compatibility with the items you wish to protect.

Before using your fire extinguisher, be sure to read the instructions before it's too late. Although there are many different types of fire extinguishers, all of them operate in a similar manner.

Use this acronym as a quick reference (it is a good idea to print this reference and pin it next to your fire extinguisher):

P
A
S
S

Pull the Pin at the top of the extinguisher. The pin releases a locking mechanism and will allow you to discharge the extinguisher.

Aim at the base of the fire, not the flames. This is important - in order to put out the fire, you must extinguish the fuel.

Squeeze the lever slowly. This will release the extinguishing agent in the extinguisher. If the handle is released, the discharge will stop.

Sweep from side to side. Using a sweeping motion, move the fire extinguisher back and forth until the fire is completely out. Operate the extinguisher from a safe distance, several feet away, and then move towards the fire once it starts to diminish. Be sure to read the instructions on your fire extinguisher - different fire extinguishers recommend operating them from different distances. Remember: Aim at the base of the fire, not at the flames!!!!

A typical fire extinguisher contains 10 seconds of extinguishing power. This could be less if it has already been partially discharged. Always read the instructions that come with the fire extinguisher beforehand and become familiarized with its parts. It is highly recommended by fire prevention experts that you get hands-on training before operating a fire extinguisher. Most local fire departments offer this service.

Once the fire is out, don't walk away! Watch the area for a few minutes in case it re-ignites. Recharge the extinguisher immediately after use.


According to the National Fire Protection Association

http://www.nfpa.org/

  • In 2003, 80% of fires in the United States occurred in the home, resulting in 3,925 fire deaths.
  • In the U.S., someone dies from a home fire roughly every 134 minutes.
  • In Canada, someone is fatally injured in a home fire roughly every 31 hours. 
  • Roughly half of all home fire deaths in the U.S. resulted from fires that were reported between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. But only one-quarter of home fires occur between those hours. 
  • Although children five and under make up about 9% of the country's population, they accounted for 17% of the home fire deaths.
  • Smoking was the leading cause of home fire deaths overall, but in the months of December, January and February, smoking and heating equipment caused similar shares of fire deaths.
  • Every 20 seconds, a fire department responds to a fire somewhere in the nation.

 With these startling statistics in mind, here are some safety tips for you:

SMOKE DETECTORS

Smoke is responsible for three out of four deaths.

  • Install smoke detectors on every level of your home and outside of sleeping areas.
  • Test every detector at least once a month. [See your instruction book for the location of the test button.]
  • Keep smoke detectors dust free. Replace batteries with new ones at least once a year, or sooner if the detector makes a chirping sound.
  • If you have a smoke detector directly wired into your electrical system, be sure that the little signal light is blinking periodically. This tells you that the alarm is active.
  • Inexpensive smoke detectors are available for the hearing impaired.

FIRE EXTINGUISHERS

They remain your best bet if you're on the spot when a fire begins.

  • Fire extinguishers should be mounted in the kitchen, garage, and workshop.
  • Purchase an ABC type extinguisher for extinguishing all types of fires.
  • Learn how to use your fire extinguisher before there is an emergency.
  • Remember, use an extinguisher on small fires only. If there is a large fire, get out immediately and call 911 from another location.

THINKING AHEAD: Your Exit Plan

As with other things, the best motto is, "Be Prepared."

  • Prepare a floor plan of your home showing at least two ways out of each room.
  • Sleep with your bedroom door closed. In the event of fire, it helps to hold back heat and smoke. But if a door feels hot, do not open it; escape through another door or window.
  • Easy-to-use window escape ladders are available through many catalogues and outlet stores. For instance, First Alert sells one for around $90.
  • Agree on a fixed location out-of-doors where family members are to gather for a head count.
  • Stay together away from the fire. Call 911 from another location. Make certain that no one goes back inside the burning building.
  • Check corridors and stairways to make sure they are free of obstructions and combustibles.
  • To help cut down on the need for an emergency exit in the first place, clear all unnecessary items from the attic, basement, garage, and closets.

FIREPLACE

Remember, you're deliberately bringing fire into your home; respect it.

  • Use a fireplace screen to prevent sparks from flying.
  • Don't store newspapers, kindling, or matches near the fireplace or have an exposed rug or wooden floor right in front of the fireplace.
  • Have your chimney inspected by a professional prior to the start of every heating season and cleaned to remove combustible creosote build-up if necessary.
  • Install a chimney spark arrester to prevent roof fires.
  • When lighting a gas fireplace, strike your match first, then turn on the gas.

FURNACE/SPACE HEATERS

Used improperly, a space heater can be the most dangerous appliance in your house.

  • Install and maintain heating equipment correctly. Have your furnace inspected by a professional prior to the start of every heating season .
  • Don't store newspapers, rags, or other combustible materials near a furnace, hot water heater, space heater, etc.
  • Don't leave space heaters operating when you're not in the room.
  • Keep space heaters at least three feet away from anything that might burn, including the wall.
  • Don't use extension cords with electrical space heaters. The high amount of current they require could melt the cord and start a fire.
  • When lighting a gas space heater, strike your match first, then turn on the gas.
  • Never use a gas range as a substitute for a furnace or space heater.

CLOTHES DRYER

Under some circumstances, dangerous heat can build up in a dryer.

  • Never leave home with the clothes dryer running.
  • Dryers must be vented to the outside, not into a wall or attic.
  • Clean the lint screen frequently to keep the airway clear.
  • Never put in synthetic fabrics, plastic, rubber, or foam because they retain heat.

ELECTRICAL HAZARDS

Electricity, the silent servant, can become a silent assassin.

  • It is better not to use extension cords. If you feel you must use one, make sure that it is not frayed or worn. Do not run it under a rug or twist it around a nail or hook.
  • Never overload a socket. In particular, the use of "octopus" outlets, outlet extensions that accommodate several plugs, is strongly discouraged.
  • Do not use light bulb wattage which is too high for the fixture. Look for the label inside each fixture which tells the maximum wattage.
  • Check periodically for loose wall receptacles, loose wires, or loose lighting fixtures. Sparking means that you've waited too long.
  • Allow air space around the TV to prevent overheating. The same applies to plug-in radios and stereo sets, and to powerful lamps.
  • If a circuit breaker trips or a fuse blows frequently, immediately cut down on the number of appliances on that line.
  • Be sure all electrical equipment bears the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label.
  • In many older homes, the capacity of the wiring system has not kept pace with today's modern appliances. Overloaded electrical systems invite fire. Watch for these overload signals: dimming lights when an appliance goes on, a shrinking TV picture, slow heating appliances, or fuses blowing frequently. Call a qualified electrician to get expert help.

KITCHEN

Careless cooking is the number one cause of residential fires. Never leave cooking unattended.

  • It's wise to have a fire extinguisher near the kitchen. Keep it 10 feet away from the stove on the exit side of the kitchen.
  • Never pour water on a grease fire; turn off the stove and cover the pan with a lid, or close the oven door.
  • Keep pot handles on the stove pointing to the back, and always watch young children in the kitchen.
  • Don't store items on the stove top, as they could catch fire.
  • Keep kitchen appliances clean and in good condition, and turn them off and disconnect them when not in use.
  • Don't overload kitchen electrical outlets and don't use appliances with frayed or cracked wires.
  • Wear tight-fitting clothing when you cook. Here's why: An electrical coil on the stove reaches a temperature of 800 degrees. A gas flame goes over 1,000 degrees. Your dish towel or pot holder can catch fire at 400 degrees. So can your bathrobe, apron, or loose sleeve.
  • Be sure your stove is not located under a window in which curtains are hanging.
  • Clean the exhaust hood and duct over the stove regularly. and wipe up spilled grease as soon as the surface of the stove is cool.
  • Operate your microwave only when there is food in it.

CHILDREN and GRANDCHILDREN

One-fourth of all fire-deaths of children are from fires started by children.

  • Keep lighters and matches out of the reach of children.
  • Never leave children unattended with fire or space heaters.
  • Children are naturally curious about fire, so keep an eye on them. But if a child repeatedly plays with fire or seems to have a morbid fascination with fire, seek professional help at once.
  • If youngsters live with you or stay overnight occasionally, be sure that they know how to escape from every room and are part of your emergency exit plan. [See "Thinking Ahead" above]

GASOLINE AND OTHER FLAMMABLE LIQUIDS

Those cans aren't painted red just for the fun of it!

  • Flammable liquids should be stored only in approved safety containers, and the containers should be kept outside the house and garage in a separate storage shed.
  • Gas up lawn equipment and snowthrowers outside, away from enclosed areas and any source of sparks or heat.
  • Start the equipment 10 feet from where you filled it with fuel.
  • Don't fill a hot lawn mower, snowthrower, or other motor; let it cool first.
  • Never clean floors or do other general cleaning with gasoline or flammable liquids.

SMOKING

If you actually believe that you're immune from cancer, heart disease, emphysema, and other ills, at least worry about burning to death.

  • Never smoke in bed.
  • Don't smoke when you are drinking or are abnormally tired.
  • Use large, deep ashtrays, and empty them frequently.
  • Never dump an ashtray into the trash without wetting the butts and ashes first.




Just a few days before Christmas in 1990, a Christmas tree in a Canton home burst into flames. The man tried to pull the burning tree out of the doorwall in the back of the home. The tree wedged in the doorwall and ignited nearby combustibles, quickly spreading the fire. He and his wife tried desperately to get their children out safely, but seven people died in that fire.
By Tom Kiurski GUEST COLUMNIST As I search the stories from around the country, there are some that bring out great lessons for us all. One such story has to do with smoke alarms and the state of Iowa. It has to do with how working smoke alarms saved 12 lives in less than three hours.
By Tom Kiurski GUEST COLUMNIST I came across a Canadian survey of what items people have on their spring cleaning lists. While fire safety may not be high on the list of respondents, spring (along with every other season) has some safety issues that should be addressed. What items would make your list.
In this column, I write about many of the safety aspects of our lives that are highly important but often overlooked. Fires do not strike us very often, and many are handled while they are small. Add to that the way the movie and television industry downplay fires, and it is understandable that it may not be your highest priority.
An off-campus apartment fire killed two Frostburg State University (Md.) students Dec. 3. They were living in an apartment off-campus. This apartment was part of a building that had a restaurant on the lower level and apartments to the rear and above the restaurant. The female victim was to celebrate her 20th birthday that day. She didn't celebrate.
Each year, nearly 4,300 fires in the United States occur on Thanksgiving Day causing 15 fatalities, about 50 injuries and nearly $27 million in property damage. In fact, Thanksgiving Day fires in residential structures cause more property damage and claim more lives than residential structure fires on other typical days.
      With so many fire extinguishers to choose from, selecting the proper one for your home can be a daunting task. Everyone should have at least one fire extinguisher at home, but it's just as important to ensure you have the proper type of fire extinguisher.



Page Last Updated: Oct 07, 2012 (10:21:06)
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