Home Fire Extinguishers: A Beginner’s Guide

home fire extinguisher

A smoke alarm is by far the best home-safety investment you can make. For around $10, a smoke detector can help you literally rest assured that a fire won’t catch you sleeping.

But if you’d like to take the next step in fire protection, should you buy a fire extinguisher?

Yes, if you know when and how to use it.

Practicing Proper Fire Extinguisher Safety

Fire extinguishers can be a small but important part of a home fire safety plan. They can save lives and property by putting out a small fire or suppressing it until the fire department arrives.

Fire safety experts advise that you only attempt to extinguish a fire if you have made sure that everyone else has left or is leaving the building first, and the fire department has been called. Remember, lives are more important than property.

If those conditions have been met, you can pick up the fire extinguisher and attack the fire. Make sure that your back is to a safe exit at all times. You’ll also want to make sure that the fire is confined to one area. If it begins to spread to other areas, such as walls and curtains, you should leave the room to avoid the fire surrounding you.

  • Note: Beware of smoke, as well. If the room begins to fill to the point that you can’t see or breathe, you should retreat.

The quick use of a home extinguisher can stop a small fire before it spreads, but fire extinguishers can be dangerous in inexperienced hands. Fighting an electrical fire with a water-based extinguisher, for example, could give you an electric shock, and trying to put out a large or rapidly spreading fire with an extinguisher is useless and could leave you trapped in a burning building.

A grease fire in a kitchen can be especially dangerous. If you catch it early you may be able to put it out. But if a grease fire gets out of control, it can easily send a kitchen up in flames within three and a half minutes, leaving little time to escape.

So if you decide to buy a fire extinguisher, take the time to learn a bit about its proper use.

Understanding Different Types of Fire Extinguishers

If you’ve decided to buy a fire extinguisher, you’ll quickly find there are a lot of options to choose from. Do you need a 3-A:40-B:C? Or perhaps you’d like one of those neat 5-B:C units? Or maybe you want the heavy hitter, a 1-A:10-B:C?

All those letters and numbers may sound confusing, but if you take a little time to understand the coding, you will be able to find the most suitable fire extinguisher at the lowest price. Some tips:

  • The letters denote the type of fire that can be fought with a certain extinguisher. “A” fires involve the types of materials that can be extinguished with water, such as paper, wood, and cloth. “B” fires involve flammable liquids, such as cooking grease and paint solvents. “C” fires involve electrical equipment, such as a television, a fuse box, or a stereo.
  • The numbers are a measure of the unit’s firefighting capacity. The formula gets a bit complicated, but generally the higher the number, the more powerful the extinguisher. You can expect a unit rated at 10-B to put out twice as much liquid as a 5-B unit.
  • Experts recommend that homeowners buy a multipurpose unit rated at 3A:40-B:C, which will cost about $40, or a medium-sized 2A:10-B:C multipurpose extinguisher for about $35. For home use, you’ll generally want an A-B-C-rated unit because it works on all fires.