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Home Fire Safety: How to Operate a Fire Extinguisher

A home fire can happen in an instant. Knowing how to safely and quickly operate a fire extinguisher can help protect you and your family. Whether it's a small fire or not, having a portable fire extinguisher can help provide more time for you to get out of the house as well as limit damage.

A fire extinguisher near an exit doorway.

How do I select a portable fire extinguisher?

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends all households have at least one multi-purpose fire extinguisher. Keep the following in mind when selecting your extinguisher:

  • Class. Fire extinguishers are divided into four classes: A, B, C and D. Each class is for a specific type of fire. Class A is for ordinary combustibles (e.g., wood and paper); Class B is for flammable liquids (e.g., grease and oil); Class C is for electrical fires; and Class D is for flammable metals. NFPA recommends choosing a multipurpose extinguisher for home use, typically one rated for Classes A-B-C.
  • Size. Choose an extinguisher large enough to put out a small fire and one that you can comfortably lift.
  • Independent testing. Select a fire extinguisher that has been rated by an independent testing laboratory.
  • Location. Keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen and on every floor of your home, ideally near an exit.

How do I use a portable fire extinguisher?

Fire extinguishers operate using the "PASS" method:

  1. Pull the pin.
  2. Aim at the base of the fire.
  3. Squeeze the lever.
  4. Sweep the nozzle from side to side at the base of the fire.

A fire can grow quickly and spread rapidly, even when using a fire extinguisher. If the room fills with smoke or the fire is not easily controlled, stop using the extinguisher and exit immediately. The NFPA recommends keeping your back to a clear exit, so you can make a quick escape.

Who should use a portable fire extinguisher?

The NFPA recommends only adults use a fire extinguisher and discourages training children. According to the NFPA, children may not have the physical strength to operate the extinguisher or the maturity to make life-or-death decisions should the fire spread. Always make sure to have a plan in place for your family in the case of a fire.

How long do fire extinguishers last?

Even if there's no expiration date, a portable fire extinguisher will not last forever. There is no specific number of years before an extinguisher is expired. Regular checks will confirm the extinguisher is in working order.

  • Monthly: Check the pressure gauge each month to confirm the needle is in the green area. If the needle falls anywhere else, have the extinguisher professionally serviced or replaced. Visually inspect the extinguisher for signs of rust, corrosion or damage.
  • Yearly: Have your extinguisher serviced each year. Keep a hang-tag or sticker on the extinguisher with a record of service dates.

Fire safety starts with prevention

In addition to a portable fire extinguisher, working fire and smoke detectors are important for home fire safety. Install fire and smoke detectors on all floors in your home and regularly check that all batteries used in detectors are fresh. If you use an indoor fireplace or woodstove, ensure safe operation with regular maintenance.

Do you have questions about your insurance coverage in the event of a home fire? Talk to your independent agent about the different coverage options available for your home.

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