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How to Choose and Use a Fire Extinguisher

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Fires are a more common problem than you might think in survival situations. Most people will have to cook their food over open fires and many of them will not use proper safety precautions. And if there is no running water, sprinkler systems will not work and locals will not be able to use garden hoses to extinguish outdoor fires. And don’t count on the fire department to save the day. If things are bad, they’re more likely to stay at home and protect their families, and I wouldn’t really blame them.

In this article I’m going to focus on fire extinguishers and the various types. You should already have a fire extinguisher in your home, but if you’re preparing for a major disaster, it’s a good idea to get a few extras.

Fire needs fuel and oxygen to burn. Simply put, fire extinguishers either cool the burning fuel or displace the surrounding oxygen. There are four types of fire extinguishers, each for a different type of fire. There is also a numerical rating that indicates how much fire the extinguisher is able to handle (the higher the number, the more it can handle). Here are the four types:

  • Class A. These are for common materials such as paper, cardboard, wood, and trash. The numerical rating indicates the amount of water it contains.
  • Class B. These are for combustible liquids such as gasoline, grease and oil. The numerical rating indicates how many square feet of fire it can handle.
  • Class C. These are for anything electrical such as appliances, wires, outlets and circuit breakers. Never use water for these types of fires because you could get an electric shock.
  • Class D. These are mainly for combustible metals such as magnesium, potassium and sodium. They are mainly kept in chemical laboratories and are only designed for class D fires.

When selecting a fire extinguisher, make sure it has an ABC rating, like this one. The reason is because you don’t want to accidentally use the wrong type of extinguishers. For example, a class A extinguisher should never be used on a grease fires as it will only spread the fire. ABC types have monoammonium phosphate, a yellow powder that will put out any fire (unless, of course, you’re working in a chemical laboratory). Note: it leaves a sticky residue that can damage electrical equipment, especially computers.

After purchasing a fire extinguisher, take time to read the instructions. You won’t have time to read them if your house is burning down! A good way to remember how to use one is with the acronym P-A-S-S.

Pull the pin.
Aim at the base of the fire.
Squeeze the lever slowly.
Sweep from side to side.

Always aim at the base! That is where the fire is getting its fuel. Aiming at the flames won’t help. Also, maintain a safe distance and don’t move toward the fire until it’s almost dead. Afterward, be sure to wait a while to make sure the fire doesn’t start up again.

The Lost Ways

Be sure to put your fire extinguisher somewhere it is easy to get to. If it’s in your bedroom closet, it’s not going to do much good if your bed is on fire! The most common places where fires start are the kitchen and the garage, so keep one in both places. Finally, make sure you inspect your fire extinguisher monthly to make sure it’s still pressurized.

Before fighting a fire, ask yourself if it’s worth fighting. If an entire room is engulfed in flames, a single fire extinguisher won’t be able to stop it. And if it’s spreading quickly, it might soon be too much for your extinguisher to handle. Also, if the room is filled with too much smoke, it might be too dangerous. 7 out of 10 fire-related deaths are from inhaling poisonous smoke. If any of these things are the case, you should get your family, grab your bug out bag, and run!

If you do fight the fire, keep your back to the exit, maintain a safe distance, use sweeping motions, and watch the area to make sure it doesn’t reignite. Hopefully you’ll never have to use a fire extinguisher, but it’s important to be prepared.

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  • Laura

     What a great piece!  This is something we all take for granted that we “know” but may not.  In the moment is not the time to figure it out.  Things like this you need to review and rehearse in your mind beforehand to save precious time during an emergency.

    Good job!