What Type of Fire Extinguisher Do You Need?

Know the Differences


December 21, 2020

3What Type of Fire Extinguisher1

Fire extinguishers can seem simple, but homeowners trying to buy one can find themselves easily confused among all the options serving multiple purposes. “The whole field of fire extinguishers is a bit complicated,” said John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for Underwriters Laboratories (UL), an independent testing and certification lab. “It makes for a little bit of a consumer struggle.” Fortunately, there are all-purpose extinguishers that can be used for most home fires, plus specialized extinguishers that can keep you safe in your yard, garage, or other locations. Here’s what you should know before you buy.

Choosing a fire extinguisher

Choosing the right fire extinguisher will depend on the type of fire you will likely need to put out. Fire extinguishers are rated by classes of fire to indicate what types of fires they are designed to counter. If you are wondering, “what is a class c fire?”, this will help. The fire classes include:

  • Class A: Combustibles, such as wood and paper. A water-based extinguisher is used for this type of fire.

  • Class B: Burning liquids, such as petroleum, oil, or grease. A carbon dioxide-based extinguisher is used for this type of fire.

  • Class C: Electrical fires, such as motors or extension cords. A dry chemical-based extinguisher is used for this type of fire.

  • Class ABC: Multipurpose. These will put out just about any home fire. If you have only one fire extinguisher, it should be a multipurpose one.

At least two other types of fire extinguishers have come into common use, Class D for burning metal fires and Class K for grease fires caused by deep fat fryers and similar appliances. Since these are used almost exclusively in commercial settings, though, you almost certainly won’t need one at home.

Extinguishers and home fires

Fortunately, all types of fire extinguishers operate in much the same way.

Using the wrong class of extinguisher on a fire, though, can be dangerous. For instance, using a Class A water-based extinguisher on an electrical fire can electrocute you, or spread a kitchen grease fire rather than put it out. That’s why it’s recommended you equip your home with a multipurpose ABC extinguisher – they can safely put out all kinds of home fires. You could also use a Class B fire extinguisher for your kitchen or garage because the most likely fire in those areas are going to involve oil or flaming liquid.

If you have a lot of expensive electronics in your family room, a Class C extinguisher would likely be the best extinguisher to keep there: it will put out fires that spark from faulty cords or wiring without ruining your valuables. These are also known as an electrical fire extinguisher, but they are simply used for electrical fires and are not actually electronics themselves.

It’s important to check an extinguisher’s rating, which indicates the size of the fire it will be able to put out. The larger the number, the greater the capacity will be. Although larger extinguishers can put out bigger fires, the size should be manageable. If you are buying one for an elderly parent to keep in a kitchen, for example, make sure it’s not too heavy for them to lift.

Where to store your extinguisher

Most home fires begin in the kitchen, and that’s a logical place to keep a fire extinguisher. These fires often begin when food is left on a lit stove unattended. However, it may be safer to have more than one fire extinguisher in your home. In a two-story home, it’s a good idea to keep a second fire extinguisher on the second floor in addition to the one in the kitchen. If you have a workshop in the basement or garage of your home, you might consider keeping a fire extinguisher there as well.

Once you get a fire extinguisher, be sure to check the gauge once a month to see that it’s still charged.

Using your extinguisher

Once you get a fire extinguisher, take a few minutes to learn how to effectively use it. If a fire breaks out, you don’t want to lose precious time reading the label.

UL’s Drengenberg suggests learning the acronym “PASS” to remind yourself how to use a fire extinguisher. PASS stands for:

  • P: Pull the pin that holds the trigger.

  • A: Aim at the base of the fire, not the flames.

  • S: Squeeze the trigger. Don’t jerk it.

  • S: Sweep across the base of the flames rather than spraying a single point.

Key tips for fire emergencies

Remember your most important priority is to get everyone out of the house immediately and call 911. If a blaze isn’t contained or the room fills with smoke, don’t worry about fighting the fire – just get out. A typical home fire extinguisher will be exhausted in less than a minute, so if flames are blocking your exit, use it to put them out.

Linley Stringer is a copywriter with Brinks Home. She is passionate about telling stories that keep consumers informed and protected.

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