Protect Your Home

Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher, located in the kitchen. Better still is to install fire extinguishers on each level of a house and in each potentially hazardous area, including (besides the kitchen) the garage, furnace room, and workshop.

Choose fire extinguishers by their size, class, and rating. "Size" refers to the weight of the fire-fighting chemical "Class" refers to the types of fires an extinguisher can put out. Class A extinguishers are for use only on ordinary combustible materials such as wood, paper, and cloth. Generally, their charge consists of carbonated water, which is inexpensive and adequate for the task but quite dangerous if used against grease fires (the pressurized water can spread the burning grease) and electrical fires (the water stream and wetted surfaces can become electrified, delivering a possibly fatal shock). Class B extinguishers are for use on flammable liquids, including grease, oil, gasoline, and other chemicals. Usually their charge consists of powdered sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).

Class E extinguishers are for electrical fires. Most contain dry ammonium phosphate. Some Class E extinguishers contain halon gas, but these are no longer manufactured for residential use because of halon's adverse effect on the earth's ozone layer. Halon extinguishers are recommended for use around expensive electronic gear such as computers and televisions; the gas blankets the fire, suffocating it, and then evaporates without leaving chemical residue that can ruin the equipment. Another advantage of halon is that it expands into hard-to-reach areas and around obstructions, quenching fire in places other extinguishers cannot touch.

"Rating" is a measurement of fire extinguishers effectiveness on a given type of fire. The higher the rating, the more effective the extinguisher is against the class of fire to which the rating is assigned.

Mount fire extinguishers in plain sight on walls near doorways or other potential escape routes. Use mounting brackets made for the purpose; these attach with long screws to wall studs and allow extinguishers to be instantly removed. The correct mounting height for extinguishers is between four and five feet above the floor, but mount them as high as six feet if necessary to keep them out of the reach of young children. Do not keep fire extinguishers in closets or elsewhere out of sight; in an emergency they are likely to be overlooked.

Buy fire extinguishers that have pressure gauges that enable you to check the condition of the charge at a glance. Inspect the gauge once a month; have an extinguisher recharged where you bought it or through your local fire department whenever the gauge indicates it has lost pressure or after it has been used, even if only for a few seconds. Fire extinguishers that cannot be recharged or have outlasted their rated life span, which is printed on the label, must be replaced.

Everyone in the household except young children should practice using a fire extinguisher to learn the technique in case a fire breaks out. A good way to do this is to spread a large sheet of plastic on the ground and use it as a test area (the contents of most extinguishers will kill grass and stain pavement).


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