Disasters — especially earthquakes — create fire hazards, including broken gas mains and gas leaks, which can be ignited by sparks or open flames. With care, you can protect your family and home. October is Fire Prevention Month, providing a reminder to check your home for safety as well as to minimize fire risks.
- Secure gas heaters and use flexible gas hoses in gas-powered appliances. Know how to identify gas leaks. Signs of a leak include a strong gas smell and a rapidly moving gas meter (check the wheels without numbers, found above or below the row of numbered wheels). If there is a gas leak, shut down the gas main in your building. Remember, once you shut off your gas, only the power company can turn it back on.
- Check all product labels for flammability. Keep flammable liquids (solvents, fuels, acetone, pressurized cans) away from water heaters and stoves. Keep flammable materials away from heat sources. For example, keep curtains, upholstered furnishings, and bedding away from portable heaters.
- Emergency ladders: If all or part of your home is above the ground floor, keep a sturdy rope or emergency ladder in all upper floors (make sure they are long enough to reach the ground safely).
- Fire extinguishers: The National Fire Protection Association recommends at least one extinguisher for every 600 square feet of living area. Fire extinguishers should be located on every level of a building, and kitchens, garages, and basements should each have their own. Do not mount extinguishers close to a location where a fire might occur (such as near a stove) — you should not risk reaching into a fire or going into a burning area to get a fire extinguisher.
CHOICE AND PLACEMENT
Your choice of extinguisher should be based on potential use. For example, oil, grease, and electrical fires are likely in the kitchen, garage, and car, so the obvious choice would be a BC extinguisher. However, much can be said for being prepared for any situation, so unless the application is specific, choose the most versatile extinguisher with the largest capacity that can be easily handled by potential users. For home use, it might be best to go with heavy-duty rated, multipurpose (ABC) dry-chemical fire extinguisher.
Put a date on each extinguisher (with permanent ink) and have it checked by a professional every three years. Check it yourself twice a year (use the spring and fall time changes as your cue).
Make sure the needle is still in the green zone and invert the extinguisher slowly, five times, to ensure the materials in it have not settled. Note: Once an extinguisher is used, even partially, you must have it recharged by a professional.
Fire extinguisher ratings appear as a series of letters and numbers (for example, 2A10BC). The letters indicate the class of fire the extinguishing agent is designed for. Depending on which letter they precede, the numbers indicate either the approximate relative extinguishing potential or the size of fire that can be put out by a trained operator using that extinguisher.
The most reliable rating is that assigned by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) — an independent entity that tests
consumer products according to governmental safety standards — which appears on the equipment nameplate. Size alone is not a good measure of extinguisher effectiveness (although generally speaking, the larger the extinguisher, the longer the spray time). The efficiency of nonrated “general purpose” extinguishers is difficult to judge.
Different types of fires require different extinguishing agents. Manufacturers choose the right extinguishing agent (such as carbon dioxide, dry chemical, or foam) for each fire classification.
Your job as consumer is to know what type of fire you want protection against and to choose an extinguisher designed to be effective against that type of fire. You do this via fire classifications — the letters (A, B, and/or C) that appear in the rating.
Class A fires are the most common type, involving ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber, and plastics.
Class B fires involve flammable liquids (such as gasoline, kerosene, or oil), gases, and greases.
Class C fires involve electrical appliances, equipment, or wiring, where the electric nonconductivity of the extinguishing agent is important (that is, when there is a risk of getting electrocuted).
Note: When the equipment or wiring is de-energized (unplugged, not live), remaining combustion is Class A or B, and extinguishers designed for those fires may be safely used.
The number preceding Class A indicates the approximate relative extinguishing potential. This number relates to the square feet of ordinary combustible material the extinguisher can put out and is dependent on the type of extinguisher as well as efficiency of design and use. The number used for Class B indicates the square footage of a deep-layer flammable liquid fire that a trained operator can put out.
HOW TO USE
Staying at least six feet away from the fire, use these steps for effective fire extinguisher use, and make sure everyone in your family is aware how to use an extinguisher:
P = Pull the pin.
A = Aim at the base of the fire.
S = Squeeze the handle.
S = Sweep at base of fire from side to side.