There is one item that belongs in every home in America that is all to often overlooked. It’s not a piece of furniture, or a T.V. This essential item is the household fire extinguisher. For many municipalities across the country, it is actually necessary to have a fire extinguisher in the home by law; not having one could mean hefty fines from your township. Fire extinguishers are crucial to have in the very first moments of a fire. Having a fire extinguisher at the ready when something goes wrong can mean the difference between being left with burn injuries coupled with thousands of dollars of property loss, versus being able to put out a potentially life-altering fire incident before it gets out of control.
Once you have a fire extinguisher in your home, there are a few things to remember about their effectiveness, how to store one, and how to use it, should the need arise. The first thing to keep in mind with fire extinguishers is that even though they do not have expiration dates like food, they do not last forever. A typical life cycle for a fire extinguisher will last about 5 to 15 years, depending on the service cycle. It is important to either take a look at when the fire extinguisher should be sent for maintenance, as well as the pressure gauge on the device itself. A fire extinguisher with no pressure will not be effective for putting out a fire. You should replace or service your fire extinguisher if you notice that the handle is loose, the locking pin is missing or broken, or if the hose or nozzle is cracked or clogged. Fire extinguishers should be typically be stored close to an exit, but easily accessible should a controllable fire break out. If the fire cannot be controlled, or if the room fills up with smokes it is best to evacuate the area and contact the fire department.
The maintenance of a fire extinguisher is just one aspect of a much greater plan for escaping a fire. Many people have never been in a situation that required the use of an extinguisher, and therefore may not know the proper method of its use. The NFPA has some excellent tips on how to use these devices. Particularly, they provide the acronym “PASS,” which stands for:
- Pull the pin. Fire extinguishers always come with a locking pin that must be pulled before use. Point the nozzle away from you.
- Aim low. Fires are known to rise up, but the flames themselves are coming from the flammable object, which is the source that must be extinguished.
- Squeeze. The operating lever must be squeezed slowly. The contents of the extinguisher will spray outward. Be careful, as the contents are under pressure, and there may be some recoil.
- Sweep. To cover more area, the nozzle should be sprayed from side to side in a sweeping motion.
Always remember, that if a fire cannot be controlled, evacuate and contact the fire department. A fire extinguisher is not meant to put out uncontrollable fires.