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What You Should Know About Buying, Using and Maintaining a Fire Extinguisher

Used properly, a portable fire extinguisher can save lives and property by putting out a small fire, or containing it until the fire department arrives. To be prepared if a fire breaks out, make sure to do your homework today on purchasing and using a portable home fire extinguisher.

Getting Started

Before heading out to the hardware store, or your building supply or department store of choice, consider where fire extinguishers should be placed around the house. How many should be on your list? A home portable fire extinguisher is recommended for each floor level in the home. It should be placed near an exit in the event a fire breaks out. If you do make the decision to use it, you will always be near an exit to escape quickly if necessary.

What Type and How Many?

Just as there are different kinds of home fires, there are various kinds of extinguishers to handle different fires. Safety experts have classified fire extinguishers into three classes:

Ordinary combustibles,
such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber and many plastic
Flammable liquids,
such as gasoline, oil, grease, tar, oil-based paint, laquer and flammable gas
Energized electrical equipment,
including wiring, fuse boxes, circuit breakers, machinery and appliances

An extinguisher that has a rating of 2-A: 10-B: C on its label is recommended to be installed in plain view, above the reach of small children. It should be placed near an escape route and away from stoves and other heating appliances.

Disposable or Rechargeable? Which Is Best?

Whether you purchase a disposable or a rechargeable model depends on your habits, how much you want to invest, and how conscientious you will be about maintenance. Whether you select a disposable or rechargeable extinguisher, maintenance is key. Check the gauge monthly for pressure drops, which is detailed in the owner's manual. Check for dents, punctures and corrosion along the body, as well as chipping or cracking on the head and nozzle.

How-To-Use Guidelines

Most extinguishers have printed or visual how-to instructions for use. Make sure to understand them before a fire breaks out. There is no time to read directions during an emergency.

Using a fire extinguisher is as easy as remembering four letters:

Pull the pin to unlock the handle
Aim low at the base of the fire
Squeeze the handle
Sweep the unit from side to side

Always be sure the fire department inspects the fire site, even if it appears that the fire has been extinguished.

Should You Fight the Fire?

Before you begin to fight a fire, make sure:

* Everyone has left, or is leaving the building
* The fire department has been called
* The fire is confined to a small area and is not spreading
* There is an unobstructed escape route to which the fire will not spread
* The extinguisher is the right type for the fire
* The person using the fire extinguisher knows how to use it

Portable fire extinguishers can be a useful component of a home fire safety plan, but they aren't the only component. A comprehensive home fire safety plan should include smoke detectors and an evacuation plan. And it's smart to talk about fire safety with your family regularly to re-enforce the evacuation plan and to check whether your smoke detectors' batteries are working. Reviewing where your fire extinguishers are kept, and how to use them is a good idea, too.

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