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Friday, December 20, 2019

Home Fire Extinguisher Tips

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy pxfuel
If you’re still looking for a last-minute Christmas gift, have you considered a home fire extinguisher.  Since home fires can be one of the most devastating and potentially deadly threats to your home and your family, if you don’t have a home extinguisher, there’s no time like the present.  While most homes have smoke detectors, far too few have fire extinguishers.  Those homes that do sometimes find that the extinguisher doesn’t work when they need it most.  To help make sure your family is safe and secure from fire, I thought my holiday present to you would be to take the time to cover everything you need to know about home fire extinguishers.

1.      One size fits all? – Hardly.  When it comes to fire extinguishers there are actually four classes that homeowners should know, each of which is capable of putting out a particular type of fire.
·         Class A is designed to extinguish burning wood, paper or cloth
·         Class B is used to fight flammable liquids and gas
·         Class C is for electrical fires
·         Class K is designed to fight cooking oil fires

What this means is that you could need several different types of extinguisher to fully protect your residence, since a Class A extinguisher works great if a candle should accidentally set the drapes ablaze.  But it will do you little good if a pan of hot oil flares up in the kitchen.    Of course, you can always opt for a Type ABC which can handle multiple kinds of combustion.  Just make sure you buy an extinguisher from a reliable manufacturer like Amerex or Kidde.  The best extinguishers come with a canister, a pressure gauge and a hose with a nozzle.  Avoid the aerosol spray can variety, since there’s no way of telling whether this type of extinguisher is fully charged.

Image courtesy flickr
2.      That’s shocking – One of the biggest safety threats to homeowners are electrical fires and grease fires, neither of which can be extinguished with water.  It isn’t uncommon for people who encounter either kind of combustion to make matters worse.  If you add water to a grease fire, you wind up making homemade napalm.  Water added to grease vaporizes explosively, spreading the fire rapidly.  Hose down an electrical short with water and you could wind up electrocuting yourself.  In either case, the first step to combating grease and electrical fires is to shut off the source of the combustion first, then fight the electrical fire with an approved Class C extinguisher and a grease fire with a Class K.  Either way, never attempt to move a burning power cord or flaming pan or you court disaster. 

3.      It’s a gas, gas, gas. – Class B extinguishers are not only handy to have around the kitchen, but in the backyard if you have a gas grill and in your car.  That’s because this type of extinguisher can dowse fires caused by propane, ethanol and gasoline.  The reason I mention the backyard grill is because if a fire occurs anywhere near a propane canister, it can explode like a bomb or shoot into the air like a rocket.  That’s one reason I always inspect the hoses and burners before swapping out propane cylinders.  While they’re a wonderful convenience, they can also prove deadly.

4.      Where’s the best place to keep your extinguisher. – Sine house-fires can occur anywhere at any time, seconds count.  While having an ABC extinguisher at home is a great idea, it doesn’t do anybody any good if you can’t find the thing, or if you have to run halfway across the house to retrieve it.  Since I live in a rancher, I keep my extinguisher on the floor behind the door of my living room closet and another in the trunk of my car which gets parked in the garage.  This way, if a fire should occur anywhere in my home, I can put my hands on the thing in seconds flat.  If I lived in a two-story home, I’d buy a second extinguisher to keep in the upstairs hall closet just to be on the safe side.  Once alight, a housefire can spread with alarming rapidity.  In 30-seconds or less, flaming drapes can spread set alight furnishings and create a plume of smoke that not only makes it nearly impossible to spot the flames, but the fumes can incapacitate you in seconds flat.

Image courtesy Pixabay
5.      Don’t forget to inspect your extinguishers regularly – The only thing worse than not being able to find your extinguisher is to find it only to have it fizzle.  Remember the pressure gauge I pointed out earlier?  It’s designed to let you know if the extinguisher is operable.  Some models have a needle that points to show you the state of the unit, while others require you to press a test button to determine the condition of the extinguisher.  While you may live in your home for decades, most fire extinguishers only have a useful shelf life of 5-10 years.  If you’ve had yours longer than that, it’s high time to buy a new one. 

6.      Care and feeding or your extinguisher – While fire extinguishers don’t eat, things can eat them.  Depending on where you store yours, it could be susceptible to rust, grit, grime, wear and tear.  As part of ringing in the new year, I inspect and clean my fire extinguishers every January.  If you take care of your extinguisher, it will take care of you.

7.      Make sure everyone in your home knows how to operate your extinguisher. – Having an extinguisher and knowing how to use an extinguisher are two different things.  Many people lose precious time by reading the instructions on the side of the extinguisher only after a fire has broken out.  Others either can’t figure out how to make it work or they aim the active ingredient too high to put out the fire.  While it’s true that flames lick upward, the best way to fight a fire is to attack the source of the flames which are usually lower than most people think.  Make it a point to familiarize yourself and your family with the safe operation of your home fire extinguisher before any of you are ever required to employ it.  That’s the best holiday gift you can give to make sure you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. Having worked in the past with volunteer firefighters, I can tell you that fire is a monster that nobody takes seriously until it comes calling. Make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy and know how to use it.


  2. Fire extinguishers are one of those items that you ignore until you really need it. But when you need it, it's best to have a fresh one.


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