Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fire Extinguishers: Are you prepared?

Do your kids know two ways out of every room?  Have you practiced your family’s fire emergency escape plan? October is Fire Prevention Month, and the National Fire Prevention Association(NFPA) also sponsors “FirePrevention Week”  from October 7-13, with special emphasis on educating families and children on fire safety.

Along with working smoke detectors and an emergency plan, having a portable fire extinguisher in your home can save lives and property by putting out small fires or containing one until the fire department arrives. But portable extinguishers have limitations. Because fire grows and spreads so rapidly, the No. 1 priority for residents is to get out safely. Make sure everyone in the family knows how to get out quickly, where to meet outside, and how to call 911.
Remember three things when purchasing and using a fire extinguisher: Make Smart Decisions. Get Training. Maintain Your Extinguisher.

Make Smart Decisions
Use a portable fire extinguisher only when:
  • The fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and is not growing;
  • Everyone has exited the building; 
  • The fire department has been called or is being called;
  • The room is not filled with smoke; and
  • Your instincts tell you that it is safe to use an extinguisher.
Know when to go. Fire extinguishers are one element of a fire response plan, but the primary element is safe escape. Every household should have a home fire escape plan and working smoke alarms.

Get Training
Get the right kind of extinguisher. For the home, select a multi-purpose extinguisher (can be used on all types of home fires) that is large enough to put out a small fire, but not so heavy as to be difficult to handle. Check this page for more information on the different types of extinguishers.

Choose a fire extinguisher that carries the label of an independent testing laboratory. Read the instructions that come with the fire extinguisher and become familiar with its parts and operation before a fire breaks out. Local fire departments or fire equipment distributors often offer hands-on fire extinguisher training.

To operate a fire extinguisher, remember the word PASS:
  • Pull the pin. Hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you, and release the locking mechanism.
  • Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.
  • Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.
  • Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side.

Watch this great video that demonstrates the technique.

Mount or install fire extinguishers close to an exit and keep your back toward a clear exit when you use the device, so you can make an easy escape if the fire cannot be controlled. If the room fills with smoke, leave immediately. Even if you think you have doused the fire, don’t cancel your emergency call.  Let the firefighters decide if the fire is really out.
Maintain Your Extinguisher
Fire extinguishers need to be regularly inspected and checked to ensure that:
  • They aren’t blocked by furniture, doorways, or anything that might limit access in an emergency.
  • The pressure is at the recommended level.
  • All parts are operable.
  • The outside of the extinguisher is clean. Clean off any oil or grease that might accumulate.
  • Shake dry chemical extinguishers once a month to prevent the powder from settling or packing. Check the manufacturer's recommendations.
  • Pressure-test the extinguisher to ensure that the cylinder is safe to use. Check the owner's manual, the label, or the manufacturer to know when to test.
  • Immediately replace the extinguisher if it needs recharging or is damaged in any way. 
Having working smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and an emergency plan is vital. Possessions can be replaced—but you can’t. Visit TEEX’s FirePrevention page for more fire safety information, plans, and tips.

Heidi Duckworth Hard is a Communications Specialist with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service.