Getting started with fire extinguishers
The first thing to do when choosing a fire extinguisher is to decide which rooms in your house need one. You should keep at least one on each level of your house. Make sure you keep fire extinguishers handy where fires are more likely to start, like in the kitchen and garage.
Understanding fire extinguisher types and classes
There are four classes of fire extinguishers – A, B, C and D – and each class can put out a different type of fire.1a
- Class A extinguishers will put out fires in ordinary combustibles including wood, cloth, rubber, paper, as well as many plastic materials.
- Class B extinguishers are for use on flammable liquids like grease, gasoline, solvents, lacquers, alcohols, oils and other similar substances.
- Class C extinguishers are suitable for use only on electrically energized equipment fires.
- Class D extinguishers are designed for use on flammable metallic substances like potassium and sodium.
Multipurpose extinguishers can be used on different types of fires and will be labeled with more than one class, for example A-B, B-C or A-B-C. You can find the class label of most fire extinguishers in a pictograph on the side of the extinguisher.1
Purchasing your fire extinguisher
Now that you know how many extinguishers you need and what types to get, you can begin shopping for the right unit for your home. Look for fire extinguishers that you can easily lift. Larger extinguishers may pack more power, but you must be able to use it properly.
How much is a fire extinguisher?
Fire extinguishers vary in cost by size and type. A 10lb extinguisher can cost around $100, while smaller 5lb units typically run $40-60, and larger commercial ones can exceed $200.2 Make sure you purchase the right size extinguisher for the space you need to protect.
Do fire extinguishers expire?
The contents of a fire extinguisher don’t expire in the same way food does, however, the extinguisher can lose pressure over time, rendering it effectively expired if unchecked. Fire extinguishers should be inspected every year to check for pressure levels and any damage. An extinguisher that has just lost pressure does not necessarily have to be replaced, however. Fire extinguishers can be recharged for $25-50.2
How to use a fire extinguisher
Once you've made your purchases, familiarize yourself with the fire extinguisher directions so you’ll be prepared in case you need to put out a fire. Typically, fire extinguishers are fairly easy to use in the case of a fire. Most fire extinguishers operate using the P.A.S.S. technique:3a
- P. Pull the pin on the fire extinguisher in order to break the tamper seal.
- A. Aim the fire extinguisher low, with the nozzle pointed at the base of the fire.
- S. Squeeze the handle of the fire extinguisher to release the extinguishing agent.
- S. Sweep the nozzle from side to side while pointed at the base of the fire until it is extinguished.
While the PASS method works on most fire extinguishers you’ll encounter, cartridge-operated fire extinguishers like the kind found in some industrial settings require an extra step. In these units, an external pressure cartridge must be activated first.3
Fire extinguisher safety tips
You don’t need to be a trained firefighter to operate a fire extinguisher, but that doesn’t mean you should tackle any fire with reckless abandon! If you are not certain you can put out the fire and that you have a clear path to escape, then you should safely exit the building and wait for your fire department to handle the situation. Proper maintenance is also important in order to ensure your extinguisher works when needed. Check your unit annually for adequate pressure levels and ensure that it is clean and undamaged.4
Ensure you and your home are protected in case of a fire or some other household accident with homeowners insurance.