The Importance of Having a Fire Extinguisher

A fire extinguisher can be a lifesaver in the event of a home fire. Keep one in an easy-to-grab spot, so you can fight the flames before firefighters arrive or at least put them out enough to get to safety. There are different types and sizes of extinguishers to suit various kinds of fires. Look for the color-coded label on each to determine which kinds of fires it can be used on.

Class A fires involve ordinary combustibles like wood, paper, cloth, trash and plastics; Class B fires involve flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, paint thinner and solvents; Class C fires occur in electrical equipment or appliances such as computers, circuitry or motors; and Class D fires are those that involve combustible metals such as magnesium, titanium, aluminum, sodium and potassium. Keeping an extinguisher on hand is a smart idea and in some cases may be required by law.

The most common fire extinguishers are stored pressure types, which have a small cylinder filled with water or smothering material in which is sealed under high pressure. When the handle is pulled, a valve opens and the material is released, similar to the way an aerosol can releases a spray. A plastic siphon tube leads from the bottom of the cylinder to the nozzle at the top. The smothering material, such as monoammonium phosphate or dry chemical foam, looks like yellow talcum powder and is propelled by nitrogen gas from a cartridge attached to the cylinder. These extinguishers are often found in hallways, offices and labs.

There are also cartridge-operated extinguishers, which have a similar design to the stored pressure type but contain a different kind of firefighting agent. They typically hold 5 to 20 pounds of the dry chemical (classes A and B) or monoammonium phosphate-based wet chemical, which looks more like a talcum powder and is propelled by compressed carbon dioxide from a separate cartridge. These are usually used in rooms where piped water is not available or where freezing conditions might exist.

The most important thing to remember is that the fire extinguisher should only be used as directed. Attempting to use the extinguisher on anything other than what is specified could cause it to malfunction and possibly rupture. Always sound the alarm to alert others of the fire and give yourself time to escape before trying to put out the flames. If you decide to use the fire extinguisher, stand about 6 feet away from the flames and aim at the base of the fire, working from side to side. After using the fire extinguisher, do a thorough check of the area to make sure the fire is out and it is safe to return. You should also replace the extinguisher as instructed by its manufacturer and read its maintenance instructions. Enter your email address to receive a PDF version of this guide that you can access anytime, as well as information about Impact Fire and other products and services that may be of interest to you.

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