fire extinguisher safety tips for homeowners

When it comes to home fire safety, a portable extinguisher is, in certain situations, your first line of defense. That makes it all the more important that you know how to properly use and maintain one. Here, we offer some tips on fire extinguisher safety for homeowners.

Home fires are serious business — what begins as a small kitchen fire can quickly grow out of control and spread to the rest of your house, destroying everything in its path. In 2014, a whopping 50 percent of residential building fires were caused by cooking, while 12.5 percent were caused by heating, 6.3 percent by electrical malfunction, and 5.8 percent by carelessness (and those are just the top 4 culprits).

Using a fire extinguisher in the event of a residential fire, as long as it's used in accordance with the safety instructions below, not only keeps you and your home safer, but it also reduces the likelihood of major property damage to your place and belongings.

But the number one priority during any house fire remains: get everyone safely out of the home and call 911.

tips for safely using a fire extinguisher

The National Fire Protection Association advises that you only use a portable extinguisher "when the fire is contained to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and is not growing; everyone has exited the building; the fire department has been called or is being called; and the room is not filled with smoke."

Additional fire extinguisher safety tips include:

  • Remember the PASS method for operating a fire extinguisher:
    • Pull the pin, pointing the nozzle away from you. Release the locking mechanism.
    • Aim low, pointing the extinguisher toward the base of the fire.
    • Squeeze the lever slowly.
    • Sweep the extinguisher's nozzle from side to side, evenly coating the area.
  • Purchase a multi-purpose extinguisher that can be used on the most common types of fires (which we'll touch on more below). The extinguisher should be large enough to put out a small fire, but not so large as to be difficult to carry or use properly.
  • Buy a fire extinguisher that has the label of an independent testing lab. Make sure necessary inspection dates (usually once per year) are marked clearly on the extinguisher, and have it inspected and serviced as needed by a professional.
  • Read the instructions on the extinguisher before a fire breaks out, so you'll be able to react quickly and with confidence. You may even be able to take a fire extinguisher safety class from your local fire department — just give them a call and ask what's available.
  • Install extinguishers close to clear exits in your home, and always use the extinguisher with your back facing the clear exit.
  • If you can't contain the fire, or the room fills with smoke, leave your home immediately. Always know when to leave, and establish an emergency fire escape route that you practice with your family. It's always wise to have a backup plan too.

know the 5 kinds of fire

According to the Fire Equipment Manufacturers' Association, fires are broken down into 5 classes:

Class A: fires that are in ordinary combustibles, like wood, trash, paper, cloth, and plastics.

Class B: fires in flammable liquids such as paint, gasoline, and petroleum oil — as well as flammable gases like butane and propane.

Class C: fires involving energized electrical equipment like appliances, motors, and transformers. If you're able to safely remove power, a Class C fire becomes one of the other types of fires.

Class D: fires in combustible metals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and aluminum.

Class K: fires in cooking oils and greases, like animal and vegetable fats.

types of fire extinguishers

For a fire to occur, there must be 4 elements present: fuel (like the kinds mentioned above), oxygen, heat, and a chemical reaction between the other 3 elements. If you remove any one of the 4 elements, you've likely extinguished the fire — which is why the concept of fire safety is based on keeping these 4 elements separate.

There are different types of fire extinguishers to help you safely address the specific kind of fire you're dealing with. The material that's fueling the fire has largely to do with what kind of extinguisher you should use. Here, we break down the different types of fire extinguishers, including what types of fire they can be used on.

Water and foam

These types of extinguishers work by removing the heat element from the blaze as well as separating oxygen from other elements. Water and foam extinguishers should only be used with Class A fires because they could potentially make other types of fires worse.

Carbon dioxide

This kind of extinguisher works by removing the oxygen element of the fire. They can also help remove the heat element with a cold discharge. Carbon dioxide extinguishers should only be used with Class B and C fires, and may be ineffective at fighting Class A fires.

Dry chemical

These extinguishers work by interrupting the chemical reaction of the fire; they essentially create a barrier between the oxygen element and the fuel element. Multi-purpose dry chemical fire extinguishers are the most commonly used extinguishers, since they're effective on Class A, B, and C fires.

It's important to note, however, that ordinary dry chemical extinguishers are only effective in extinguishing Class B and C fires — make sure to purchase the "multi-purpose" kind.

Remember, you'll still need an extinguisher designed for Class K fires if you do a lot of high-heat cooking, since dry chemical extinguishers won't necessarily be effective against them.

Wet chemical

These extinguishers were designed with high-efficiency deep-fat fryers and commercial cooking operations in mind. They fight Class K fires by removing the heat element and help prevent re-ignition by creating a barrier between the oxygen and fuel elements.

Dry powder

Designed for Class D fires only, these extinguishers work by separating the fuel element from the oxygen element or by removing the heat element. They are generally made for combustible metal fires only, and they likely won't be effective on other types.

If you don't use the correct type of extinguisher, there's a chance the fire could reignite. When you purchase an extinguisher, double check the label — it will tell you what classes of fire it can effectively put out.

get dependable coverage for fires and so much more with homeowners insurance from esurance

Let's say a blaze grows outside your ability to safely contain it — what then? The good news is, your home insurer (including Esurance) will likely cover damage to your dwelling and personal belongings, up to the limits you choose on your policy, if your home is ravaged by a fire.

A homeowners insurance policy from Esurance can even help pay additional living expenses (like a hotel, food, and transportation) if your house is deemed temporarily uninhabitable after a fire. How's that for peace of mind?

What's more, you can save some cash on your home insurance just for having a fire extinguisher in your abode, with the Home Safety Features discount from Esurance. And the more safety features you equip your house with, the more you could save — with smoke detectors, fire sprinkler systems, burglar alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and more.

Be sure to get a quick, free Esurance homeowners insurance quote online to see all the perks we offer our policyholders. From 24/7 claims service, to simple policy management, to myriad ways to save money on dependable coverage — we're confident you'll be joining the Esurance family in no time. Feel free to give us a call at 1-866-439-5633 where our licensed agents are available at these times.

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