Courtesy of Realtor.com
Fire extinguisher training is something everyone should know, but many ignore. But let’s face it: If you have no clue how to use a fire extinguisher—or check that it’s still in good working order—it won’t be much use if a fire breaks out in your home, right?
According to the Fire Extinguisher Manufacturers’ Association, 94% of the time, a portable fire extinguisher can stamp out a fire in 2 minutes flat. That early intervention means a happier ending for both you and your belongings.
So take 5 minutes to peruse this checklist on how to select, operate, and maintain a fire extinguisher so it can do its job—and help keep your home safe.
What’s the best fire extinguisher for you?
Yes, they all put out fires, but there are different classes of extinguishers to put out different types of blazes.
“If you don’t have the right one for the respective fire, yours could be useless,” says Seth Thompson, a marketing assistant for L.N. Curtis, which provides firefighter gear and equipment.
When you’re shopping for a fire extinguisher, look for one (or more) of these letters on the label:
A: For wood-, paper-, or cloth-based combustions
B: For gas-based fires (like on a gas stove)
C: For electrical fires (never use water to try and put out an electrical fire—you could get electrocuted!)
D: For metal-based combustions
K: For grease- and oil-based fires
The American Red Cross recommends an extinguisher rated at least A-B-C for home use.
Where to store a fire extinguisher
If you live in a multistory home, one extinguisher—even a giant one— is not going to cut it. You should keep a fire extinguisher on each floor.
“No matter where you are in a building, you should be able to get to a fire extinguisher in 6 seconds,” says Thompson.
Consider mounting each extinguisher to the wall where it’s easy to locate and grab, says R.J. Beam, a former firefighter and current law enforcement professional in Wisconsin who handles fire and arson investigations.
(Just make sure none of your extinguishers is accessible to young kids.)
With that in mind, you can also store them in a pantry or closet, so long as no other items block your way to quick access.
Since half of all home fires originate in the kitchen, you should definitely store an extinguisher there. But don’t put it under the counter next to your stove—the heat it gives off can make the contents of your extinguisher less effective.
If you’re still unsure of the best locations to store your extinguishers, ask a pro.
“Some towns have fire safety programs where firefighters will come and check your home. Part of the check is recommendations on placement of extinguishers,” says Beam.
How to maintain a fire extinguisher, and how often
Take a second to eyeball your canister about once a month.
“If you notice any damage like a missing pin or a cracked hose, you may need to purchase a new extinguisher,” says Caitlin Hoff, a health and safety investigator for ConsumerSafety.org.
Some extinguishers have a test button. If you press it and it pops back up, your canister still has the proper pressure. If not, look at the gauge near the neck. The needle should be in the green “charged” zone for it to work properly. Once it drifts into “recharge” territory, it is ineffective in a fire and needs to be serviced.
It’s not safe to do this by yourself, so don’t even try. Instead, take rechargeable extinguishers to a fire extinguisher company in your area. A trained fire safety technician will carefully depressurize the canister, take apart the nozzle and tube, clean the valve, and look for signs of damage or corrosion. Once a new stem’s put in, the canister will be filled and repressurized.
Have a dry-chemical extinguisher? (Check the label if you’re unclear. Fire extinguishers are extremely well-marked with both verbage and handy pictographs.) If so, give your canister a firm shake each month to ensure the powder inside doesn’t settle.
And remember, even if your canister looks spotless on the outside, the contents don’t last forever. They’ll age and lose effectiveness over time. If your single-use extinguisher is more than 12 years old, you’ve had a good run. It’s time to buy a new one. Rechargeable extinguishers—if they’re properly maintained—can last up to 20 years.
Fire extinguisher training made easy: How to use a fire extinguisher
Hopefully you’ll never have to use a fire extinguisher, but if that day arrives, remember to first call 911, make sure you have a clear escape route in case things go south, then follow the PASS protocol:
P for PULL: Pull the pin from the fire extinguisher’s handle with the nozzle facing away from you.
A for AIM: Aim the nozzle low toward the base of the fire.
S for SQUEEZE: Squeeze the trigger slowly to release the extinguishing agent.
S for SWEEP: Sweep the nozzle from side to side to extinguish the flames. Don’t turn your back on the flames, and get the heck out of there if the fire becomes unmanageable.
Remember, these are basics.
“Read through the instructions for your home extinguisher, and make sure that you understand exactly how it works before an emergency should arise,” says Hoff.
Make sure everyone else in your home knows the drill, too.