If there’s a fire in your home, your first instinct may be to run, far and fast, while calling 9-1-1 on your cell phone. That’s a perfectly acceptable response—fires are not to be taken lightly. They have the potential to cause enormous damage and injury.
Despite the inherent danger of fires, it’s useful to be prepared to handle small fires that start while you are on the premises. You may be able to prevent that small fire from becoming a large, uncontrollable blaze. To do so effectively, you’ll need an appropriate fire extinguisher at hand and you’ll need to understand how to use it properly. If these aren’t ideas you’ve considered previously, don’t panic. This guide will serve as an overview of fire extinguishers, their uses and their maintenance.
Standard fire extinguishers are pressurized red canisters fitted with a pressure gauge, a hose and a pin that prevents them from discharging unexpectedly. They are classified by letter according to the types of fires they can fight:
Class A. Suitable for fires fuelled by ordinary combustibles such as paper, wood, or cloth.
Class B. Appropriate for fires fuelled by flammable liquids or gases, such as gasoline, petroleum oil, or propane.
Class C. Used for fires involving electronic equipment. This could be any other class of fire that also involves electrical equipment.
Class K. Suitable for fires started or fuelled by cooking oils and fats.
Fire extinguishers can also be differentiated by the type of firefighting material they contain. Water, CO2, and dry chemical extinguishers are the main three types. Dry chemical extinguishers are the most common for home use, and will be marked according to which classes of fire they can fight. Though not common, service-free fire extinguishers are another type. Despite their name, they require essentially the same regular inspection and maintenance as normal fire extinguishers.
Fire extinguishers generally have a six-litre capacity and are labelled according to fire class. Many home fire extinguishers are multipurpose ABC extinguishers, suitable for any of those three fire classes.
Extinguishers for Class K fires are heavy-duty products and are sold separately. Look at the letters on the canister; if there is a red circle with a slash through any of the letters, the extinguisher isn’t suitable for that class of fire. For example, kitchen fires must be fought with Class K extinguishers; the others, which use dry chemicals, will only make the fire worse.
Class A and B household extinguishers are also labeled to indicate the severity of the fires they can handle; the higher the number, the larger the size of the fire they can handle.
Class A extinguishers are rated from 1 to 40; Class B extinguishers are rated from 1 to 640.
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You should check all standard extinguishers monthly and have them serviced annually by a professional. Since they are pressurized, dropping them can be dangerous and dents can compromise their integrity. During your monthly checks, inspect the pressure gauge to make sure the needle is in the green zone; if not, you’ll need to fix or replace the unit.
If the pin is lost or if the cylinder is banged up, it’s also a signal to have a professional examine the unit. In addition, the extinguishers generally need to be refilled every five years.
Make sure you keep up inspections and service so you can rely on your extinguisher at any time. Fires don’t announce themselves in advance and you’ll want to be prepared.
Service-free extinguishers generally come with a 10-year warranty and a 20-year service life. They come with commissioning and installation included in the price and there is no need to have the dry powder or foam extinguishers refilled every five years.
They are usually made of non-corrosive materials, so they aren’t subject to rust, unlike standard models. They are, however, pricier.
Whichever type of extinguisher you purchase, be sure that everyone in the family knows where it is stored—preferably near an exit to the room—and that everyone who is old enough knows how to use it. Read the instructions carefully and review them prior to your annual family fire drill.
Now that you’re up to speed, be sure to purchase an extinguisher and be prepared to use it.
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