Keeping a fire extinguisher in your home seems like a no-brainer, but it’s not as simple and straightforward as you think. There are circumstances where having a fire extinguisher can make things more dangerous.
So, should I have a fire extinguisher in my house? Yes, you should have a fire extinguisher in your home, but it is not a case of buying one and putting it in a cupboard. You need the correct fire extinguisher, you must know how to use it correctly, and you have to have other fire safety measures in place first.
Here’s everything you need to know about fire extinguishers in the house.
Should I Have A Fire Extinguisher in My House?
Yes, you should have a fire extinguisher in your house, but it should be part of a fire safety “system” and not the only thing you rely on for protection. A fire extinguisher should be the third step in your home fire safety plan.
Fire Safety Step One: Smoke Detectors
The single most important piece of fire safety equipment in your home is the smoke detector. When considering fire safety in your home, the first thing you should do is install the recommended number of smoke detectors in the correct locations. If smoke detectors are already in place, install new batteries, and ensure the sensors are working correctly.
Fire Safety Step Two: Home Fire Escape Plan
It comes as a shock to many people that you may have as little as two minutes to escape from your home in a house fire. Consequently, you do not want to wait until there is a fire to figure out how to escape.
The National Fire Protection Association has an excellent How To Make A Home Fire Escape Plan page. Here you will find everything you need to know about creating a home fire escape plan for your family and your home, including a one-page Escape Planning Tips Sheet and an Escape Planning Floor Plan Grid on which you can draw an escape map.
Fire Safety Step Three: Home Fire Extinguishers
Once you have those two pieces in place, you can move onto choosing a suitable fire extinguisher for your home.
How Do You Choose The Correct Fire Extinguisher?
Accidents occur, and fires are made worse when people use the wrong fire extinguisher. For example, one of the worst things you can do when there is a fire in the kitchen, and it involves grease, is to throw water on it. Rather than putting the fire out, this is likely to spread the fire much further and much more quickly.
Ideally, you should choose a fire extinguisher that is capable of putting out a fire on a range of materials, but how do you know which type of fire a particular extinguisher is for? Easy. They have codes.
What Do Fire Extinguisher Codes Mean?
Fire extinguisher labeling enables you to tell what type of fire the extinguisher is for, and the volume of extinguishing material. They do this with a letter – which tells you the type of fire, and a number that tells you how much it holds. So, you might see a home fire extinguisher that says 3-A:40-B:C or maybe one with a label declaring 5-B:C.
This looks confusing, but don’t worry, it is relatively simple.
Class A: These extinguishers are good for the type of fire that involves things like paper, or wood, that can be put out with water.
Class B: These are for fires that involve combustible liquids like paint, cooking oil, and solvents.
Class C: Class C extinguishers can be used on electrical equipment such as heaters, laptops, or TVs.
Numbers: There is an equation behind the numbering, but all you need to know is that the higher the number, the more fire it is capable of suppressing. For example, a 5-B unit will only put out half the amount of burning liquid as a 10-B unit.
So, that 3-A:40-B:C unit I mentioned? You can use that on class A, B, or C fires.
Disposable Or Refillable?
Home fire extinguishers come in either a disposable or refillable format. The only difference is that if you use your disposable fire extinguisher, or you check it to find it has expired, you now have a large aluminum bottle you need to dispose of.
Personally I prefer refillable as they are a more environmentally sound choice. A quick internet search will show there are a surprising number of places to have your fire extinguisher refilled and this costs between $20 and $30, which is cheaper than buying a new one.
Where Do You Store Your Fire Extinguishers?
Now you know which one to buy, where do you store your fire extinguisher?
Lots of people buy a single fire extinguisher for their home and store it under the sink, which is a huge mistake. Not only do you need more than one fire extinguisher in most homes, but you also need to store them somewhere that is readily accessible.
When deciding where to store your fire extinguisher, think about where a fire is most likely to start and how easy, or otherwise, it would be to get to it. Going back to the under the sink in the kitchen example, this is only appropriate if you are able to access the sink without passing the stove, and there is nothing else in the cupboard to block your access.
There are better places.
Where To Store A Fire Extinguisher In The Kitchen
The most likely place for a residential fire to occur is in the kitchen. Therefore your extinguisher should be:
- Within 30 feet of the stove and oven.
- Not so close that smoke or flame could prevent you from accessing the extinguisher.
- Preferably wall mounted in an unobstructed spot.
- If it must be stored in a cupboard, for example, if you do not have a spot on the wall big enough to hang the extinguisher, ensure there is nothing between the door and the extinguisher.
Where To Store Fire Extinguishers In The Rest OF The Home
There should be at least one fire extinguisher on each floor of the home, including the basement. You should also have an extinguisher within easy grabbing distance of anywhere that is at high risk of causing a fire such as a fireplace or wood-burning stove.
If you have a garage, a craft room, a workshop, or another place where flammable items are stored then that room or building should have its own fire extinguisher.
All extinguishers should be wall-mounted wherever possible, or in a spot where they can be easily accessed, without obstructions.
They should also be accessible between any likely cause of a fire, and the door.
When Do You Use A Fire Extinguisher?
There are several things to ask yourself before using a fire extinguisher.
Is It The Right Step?
Only use a fire extinguisher after you have made sure everyone is safely out of the building, and the fire department has been called. These two steps are the most important and must happen first.
Can I Get Out Safely?
Don’t try to put out a fire if there is any chance you could become trapped. Always ensure you have a safe, unobstructed exit behind you. You must also be aware of whether or not the fire is spreading, or if there is a build-up of smoke.
If the fire begins to work its way from the initial seat of the fire, stop and get out. Fire can move with shocking speed and it can take only a few moments for it to spread and cut off your escape route.
The same goes for smoke build-up. You can quickly become overwhelmed by smoke from the fire, of fumes from the items burning. If your eyes begin to sting, your vision is obstructed, you start to have trouble breathing, or have any other indication that smoke and fumes may be a danger, get out immediately.
What Type Of Fire Do I Have?
You must always be sure of what is burning before you attempt to extinguish the fire. This is especially important if you have a fire extinguisher that is only suitable for class A fires, and there is a chance that the fire may involve a flammable liquid.
Also, make doubly sure that, if there is any chance the fire involves an electrical item, you have an extinguisher that is safe to use where there may be live electrics.
Am I Sure I Know How To Use My Extinguisher?
If you are confident you can use your extinguisher correctly then if it is safe to do so, go ahead. If you have any doubts, get out and wait for the fire department to arrive. The incorrect use of a fire extinguisher can make things worse, and put you in danger.
How Do You Use A Fire Extinguisher?
To remember the correct steps when using a fire extinguisher, think PASS.
P: Pull the pin of the extinguisher.
A: Aim the fire extinguisher.
S: Squeeze the trigger or the top handle.
S: Sweep the fire area with the spray until the fire is extinguished.
Yes, you should have a fire extinguisher in your home, but only if it is the correct type, stored in the right way, and you know how and when to use it safely.
Remember the most important thing to do in any house fire is to make sure everyone has left the building and the fire department is on the way.