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The following article appears in the Winter 2018 issue of Family Safety & Health and represents the type of information your employees and their families can learn about each quarter to help them stay safe while off the job.

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Choosing the Right Fire Extinguisher Can Mean the Difference Between Life and Death

You’re cooking a stir-fry in your wok when the cooking oil suddenly catches fire. Do you know what to do?

Approximately 364,300 residential building fires are reported each year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. These fires result in about 2,775 deaths and 11,025 injuries.

Cooking is the leading cause of residential fires, followed by home heating sources such as fireplaces, wood stoves, furnaces and space heaters.

Proper use of a fire extinguisher on a small fire can help save lives by preventing the fire from growing larger. Here are some things to remember about the selection, use and storage of fire extinguishers.

Please note: Extinguishers should be used only for small fires, such as a fire in a pan or waste can. A fire can spread quickly and – in minutes – may grow so large that a fire extinguisher is not adequate. Only trained firefighters can properly and safely extinguish such a blaze.

Additionally, consider visiting your local fire department to receive hands-on training in the proper use of fire extinguishers.

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Selection and Use

Not all fire extinguishers will work well on every type of fire. Fires are identified by classes based on the materials involved in the fire, and fire extinguishers have labels indicating which class of fire they can put out.

  • Class A fire extinguishers are used on combustible materials
  • Class B extinguishers are used on flammable liquids
  • Class C extinguishers are used on electrical equipment

However, some fire extinguishers may be used on more than one type of fire. An extinguisher labeled B-C could be used on both grease fires and toaster fires. An extinguisher labeled A-B-C could be used on most home fires, according to the USFA.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International recommends buying a multipurpose extinguisher large enough to be effective in putting out small fires and light enough to handle without much difficulty.

Before using an extinguisher on a fire, alert other people in the area and have someone call the fire department.

Don’t use an extinguisher if a lot of smoke is in the room or if your instincts are telling you it wouldn’t be safe to do so, the USFA warns. In these situations, evacuate the building and wait for trained firefighters to put out the blaze.

If you decide it’s safe to use a fire extinguisher, take a moment to identify an escape route, the USFA advises.

The National Fire Protection Association wants people to remember the “PASS” technique for using fire extinguishers:

  • Pull the pin while holding the extinguisher’s nozzle away from you and release the locking mechanism
  • Aim low, pointing the extinguisher’s nozzle at the base of the fire
  • Squeeze the extinguisher’s lever slowly and evenly
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side
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Maintenance and Storage

Store fire extinguishers near room exits so you can easily escape if the flames grow out of control or the room fills with smoke, the ESFI suggests. Also, check the location of your fire extinguisher beforehand to make sure that if a fire occurs, access to the extinguisher isn’t blocked.

The National Safety Council recommends keeping an extinguisher near the furnace, garage and anywhere else a fire may start, including the kitchen.

Most residential fire extinguishers are disposable and have a shelf life ranging from three to 12 years.

Regularly check the pressure gauge on the extinguisher – most units will indicate whether the pressure is at the recommended level.

In addition, check to see that all the parts are undamaged and the nozzles are free of insects or other debris, as well as for signs of damage such as dents or rust. Any extinguisher found to be damaged or low on pressure should be immediately replaced.

Note: Although the information and recommendations contained in this article have been compiled from sources believed to be reliable, the National Safety Council makes no guarantee as to, and assumes no responsibility for, the correctness, sufficiency or completeness of such information or recommendations. Other or additional safety measures may be required under particular circumstances. This material may not be reproduced in any fashion without the National Safety Council’s permission.