As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure – and studies conducted in the UK and other parts of Europe indicate the same applies when it comes to firefighting. A UK study showed 80% of 2100 fire-related accidents were successfully dealt with using a portable fire extinguisher, without the need for fire department responders – results which have been corroborated by similar data from other parts of the world.
This highlights a simple but critical truth – swift response in the early stages of a fire can help prevent it from escalating into something bigger and more destructive. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, residential building fires in 2015 far outweighed non-residential building fires at a ratio of almost 3:1, partially because office buildings and factories often have to meet government and municipal ordinances for fire safety.
But what about homes? In 2015, an estimated 380,900 fires were recorded by the USFA, of which 50% were associated with cooking, and others with heating and electrical appliances. With our lives and property at risk, basic fire protection like smoke alarms and fire extinguishers are absolutely necessary to snuff out a fire while it’s still a minor hazard, or in worst case scenarios mitigate the effects until firefighters can get to the scene.
What type of fire extinguishers should you look into?
It’s not simply a question of buying extinguishers – it has to be the right type to suit your needs. There are 5 distinct classes of fire extinguishers – Class A for combustible materials like paper, wood and cloth, B for flammable liquids like gasoline, C for electrical fires, D for flammable metals, and K for flammable grease, oil and fats.
It might seem overwhelming to figure out which class to use when – Class A extinguishers, water-based, are better suited for putting out fires caused by an errant spark from your fire-pit, but are extremely hazardous for putting out electrical fires, posing a terrible electrocution risk, or for grease-based fires which may end up spreading even faster.
But don’t worry – this is why multipurpose Class A-B-C fire extinguishers are available on the market, suited to keeping anywhere from close to your living-room fireplace to your garage, where paints, generator fuel and other flammable liquids can easily catch fire. Class B and C fire extinguishers are also the best to put out car fires – with electronic and combustible-fuel components, an easy to access extinguisher could literally save your life, and limit the damage to your vehicle.
In the kitchen, though, it’s important to keep a Class K fire extinguisher. After all, over half of all residential fires are attributed to cooking – if not dealt with swiftly and decisively, these can spread and completely burn your kitchen down in roughly 3 minutes. A handy Class K extinguisher can smother a pan of oil that catches fire or a burning baking tray in your oven in seconds.
Another consideration is the firefighting capacity of your extinguishers. A typical extinguisher might feature a model name such as 3A:40-B:C – the letters, here, indicate the class of extinguisher it is or what types of fires it can put out, while the numbers indicate how powerful the extinguisher is in putting out certain types of fires. A 3A:40-B:C is considered the ideal fire-extinguisher for a homeowner looking to fireproof their abode, but if you find it too difficult to use, a more compact 2A:10-B:C might be more to your preference.
Where should you keep your extinguishers?
Placement is essential – you don’t want to be running up and down the stairs giving a fire the chance to spread and potentially risk more injuries and damages because an extinguisher isn’t immediately within reach. Ideally, there should be a fire extinguisher on every floor of your house, and more specifically in places prone to fire-related hazards. Keeping one close by if you have a fireplace and/or fire-pit is a must, while laundry-rooms (with electrical appliances and other flammable material), garages (with flammable structures and liquids) and of course the kitchen should also have an extinguisher to themselves. This does not mean you keep your extinguisher right next to the stove or the fireplace though – if these areas are aflame, the extinguisher itself will be difficult to reach and make its purpose redundant.
For cars, it’s best to keep your extinguisher strapped down in the trunk – as a considerably heavy, bulky metallic item, having it bump around as you drive can damage both your car as well as the extinguisher itself.
How to use and maintain your fire extinguishers
Decisiveness is key when it comes to putting down a fire before it gets a chance to grow enough to hurt someone or catch on to other surfaces and spread. The last thing you’ll want is to panic, fumbling as you figure out how your extinguisher works or finding out last minute that it’s defective or past its expiry date.
A key principle of fire prevention is being prepared for the eventuality of a fire – meaning, in this case, practicing using an extinguisher. The steps are summed up by the acronym PASS – Pull the trigger, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep. If possible, have its usage demonstrated to you when you’re making the purchase, and then ensure that everyone in your home, including part-timers like babysitters and occasional stay-over guests, are completely versed in how to use an extinguisher and will be able to respond to a fire risk at once, even if you’re not around.
Maintenance wise, make sure your extinguisher is inspected whenever your smoke alarms are, at regular intervals – a professional eye might oftentimes catch what the layman can miss. Your extinguisher may be in need for a refill or may have broken or damaged parts necessitating a replacement – it’s absolutely critical that you stay on top of keeping your extinguishers in proper working order – it’s better to be safe than sorry.
It’s also important to keep an eye on the expiration dates and pressure gauges of your extinguishers. If they are inching toward expiry, or if the pressure has fallen below “operable” or “normal”, they need to be swapped out for better, more operational ones as soon as possible.