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According to Fire Prevention Canada, careless cooking is the No. 1 cause of the fastest-spreading residential fires in Ontario.
Having a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and knowing how to use it could save your life and your property. With so many different kinds of fire extinguishers on the market, how do you know which one to buy?
Fire extinguishers are divided into four classifications, based on different types of fires.
Class A extinguishers are used on fires involving ordinary combustibles such as wood, cloth, and paper.
Class B extinguishers are used on fires involving liquids, greases and gases.
Class C extinguishers are used on fires involving energized electrical equipment.
Class D extinguishers are used on fires involving metals such as magnesium, titanium, zirconium, sodium and potassium.
Some fires may involve a combination of these classifications and because of this there are multipurpose dry chemical fire extinguishers labelled A-B-C capable of putting out most types of fires — wood, paper, cloth, flammable liquids and electrical — and are commonly purchased for the basement and garage.
Class A and B fire extinguishers come with numerical ratings that indicate the amount of water or dry chemical the fire extinguisher holds and the amount of fire it will extinguish (Class A), and the approximate number of square feet of a flammable liquid fire that a non-expert person can expect to extinguish (Class B).
Before you invest in one or more fire extinguishers, knowing that not all fire extinguishers work on all types of fires, you should consider where and what type of fire is most likely to start in your home.
Make sure you select an extinguisher that can be easily handled by all family members. You may want to consult a fire protection expert for advice.
Before using your fire extinguisher, be sure to read the instructions. Although there are many different types of fire extinguishers, all of them operate in a similar manner. It is highly recommended by fire prevention experts that you get hands-on training before operating a fire extinguisher. Most local fire departments offer this service. Although foam and water extinguishers may require slightly different use, Fire Prevention Canada recommends you print and post the “PASS” acronym next to your fire extinguisher:
P(ull) the pin. Some units require the releasing of a lock latch, pressing a puncture lever, inversion or other motion.
A(im) the extinguisher nozzle (horn) at the base of the fire.
S(queeze) or press the handle.
S(weep) from side-to-side at the base of the fire and discharge the contents of the extinguisher.
A typical fire extinguisher contains eight to 10 seconds of extinguishing power. Fire extinguishers should be pressure-tested (a process called hydrostatic testing) after a number of years to ensure the cylinder is safe to use. Consult your owner’s manual, extinguisher label or the manufacturer to see when yours needs such testing.
It’s imperative you have the fire extinguisher recharged after any use as a partially used extinguisher might as well be empty.
It’s also recommended that you check your fire extinguisher monthly for the following:
- Check to ensure that nothing is blocking immediate access to your fire extinguisher. Remove any obstructions.
- Check to ensure your extinguisher is at the recommended operating pressure, indicated by the needle in the green zone on extinguishers equipped with a gauge. Have the extinguisher recharged if the needle is not in the green zone.
- Check the hose or nozzle for cracks, tears or blockage by debris. If damage is found, have the extinguisher repaired by a qualified service technician or replaced.
- Check the pin and tamper seal to ensure they’re intact. If the tamper seal is broken or the pin is missing, have the extinguisher serviced by a qualified service technician.
- Check to ensure the handle or lever is undamaged. If the handle or lever is wobbly or broken, have the extinguisher inspected and repaired by a qualified service technician.
- Check the extinguisher for dents, leaks, rust, chemical deposits and other signs of abuse or wear. If damage is found, have the extinguisher repaired by a qualified service technician or replaced.
- Remove the extinguisher from its mounting bracket, turn the extinguisher upside down and hit the bottom sharply with your hand, then shake it well. This will prevent the dry chemical powder from settling or packing down in the cylinder, making it ineffective.
If you try to use a fire extinguisher on a fire and the fire does not immediately die down, or if the smoke becomes a major problem, drop the extinguisher and leave the area, closing the door to the area behind you to confine the fire.
Rob Parker is a registered home inspector with the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors and certified master inspector with the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors who does home inspections in the London area.