No matter how much we try to prevent accidents, the unfortunate truth is they happen. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that an average of 373,900 home structure fires occurred annually from 2005-2009. These fires caused an annual average of:
- 2,650 civilian fire deaths
- 12,890 civilian fire injuries
- $7.1 billion in direct damage
Yes, accidents do happen, but some simple preparation can help prevent injury and reduce the amount of damage. A portable fire extinguisher is an ideal item to have on hand for putting out a small fire, or to suppress a fire until firefighters arrive.
There are several types of fire extinguishers, which are labeled indicating the type of fire they are effective against:
- A – Ordinary combustibles (wood, paper, cloth)
- B – Flammable liquids (gasoline, cooking oil/grease)
- C – Electrical equipment (the extinguishing media will not conduct electricity)
On the label, these letters will be preceded by numbers indicating the extinguishers effectiveness against each type of fire. The higher the number, the greater the effectiveness. For example, an extinguisher rated 3-A:40-B:C is more effective than one rated 2-A:10-B:C. The NFPA recommends selecting a multi-purpose extinguisher (ABC) that is large enough to put out a small fire, but not so heavy it is difficult to handle. Although bigger is generally better, remember the larger the extinguisher is, the more difficult it can be to maneuver. At a minimum, at least one extinguisher rated 2-A:10-B:C or higher for each floor is recommended.
Once you’ve chosen your extinguisher, you should learn how to use it before there is an emergency. Although they are relatively simple to use, the confusion of a fire can add a degree of difficulty. In general, remember the acronym PASS:
- Pull the safety pin.
- Aim the extinguisher discharge at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the trigger.
- Sweep the source of the flames.
Fire extinguishers can lose pressure over time. In order to make sure the extinguisher is fully charged, remember to check the gauge periodically. Inspect your extinguishers every 30 days to check the gauges and to make sure they are in their designated place.
Even with a fire extinguisher available, the number one priority in a home fire is to get everyone out safely. Remember to develop and implement a fire safety plan:
- Even if you think you can put out the fire, call 911 immediately.
- Make sure everyone knows how to exit quickly and where to meet.
Do you have any fire safety tips or stories you’d like to share?