By Y. Hope Osborn, volunteer contributor, American Red Cross

About a year ago, my apartment manager attached this big, red box to the wall beside my door, and my first thought was, “What an eyesore!” Until today. I am sorry to say I thought of a fire extinguisher as an eyesore. If you have a fire extinguisher, it’s probably dusty and crammed in some out of the way corner. It isn’t like you use it as often as what it’s hidden behind.

Honestly, thinking of fire, I never thought of using a fire extinguisher. Thinking of using it, I realize I don’t know how. And thinking of how to use it, I realize I don’t know if it’s charged.

But knowing these important things about the “eyesore” or the fire extinguisher tucked away somewhere in my apartment might mean saving my life or my neighbor’s. So I did some research on fire extinguishers and came up with a few things to help us.

I checked my fire extinguisher to see that it’s fully charged and to know how to tell if it’s fully charged. I found a gauge on the top of the fire extinguisher that shows the pressure is within the appropriate colored section of the gauge. Some fire extinguishers even have a test button.

If my fire extinguisher isn’t fully charged, either the manufacturer, whose number is on the side, or the fire department might help me charge it. But if the unit is damaged, corroded, or can’t be recharged, it’s time to replace it.

That brings up another issue. How do I choose a fire extinguisher? There are four different types of fire extinguishers.

  • Type A extinguishes wood, paper, and fabric fires. Keep it in the garage or workshop.
  • Type B extinguishes grease, oil, gasoline, petroleum, and other flammable liquid fires. Keep it in the kitchen, garage, and workshop.
  • Type C extinguishes energized electrical fire. Keep it in the kitchen and laundry room.
  • Type ABC extinguishes all three (3) types of fire. These are recommended for home use.

I don’t see any label on my fire extinguisher labeling it A, B, or C, but it does have pictures and the words “trash”, “liquids”, and “electrical equipment”, so I know where to aim it.

Now that I know my fire extinguisher is in good repair and is fully charged, I think about where to put the fire extinguisher. Rather than cramming it behind a bunch of things in a cupboard, the best place to put fire extinguishers so they are handy is high on walls, near exits, and away from heat sources. Heat will destroy your carefully maintained charge. I want to keep them high so only adults reach and use them.  Before using a fire extinguisher on any fire, these are a few things I need to make sure of:

  • Everyone left or is leaving the home.
  • I called the fire department.
  • The fire is small and not spreading.
  • My back is to an exit for leaving quickly.
  • There isn’t much smoke in the room.

Once all those things are checked off the list, to work the fire extinguisher, I just remember the acronym PASS.

Pull the pin and hold the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you.

Aim low. Point the extinguisher at the base of the fire.

Squeeze the lever slowly and evenly.

Sweep the nozzle from side to side.

But if the fire doesn’t immediately die down, I drop the fire extinguisher and get out.

Maybe that big, red box with the fire extinguisher near my front door isn’t such an eyesore after all. It’s beautiful to be empowered to protect my family and my home from the most common disaster facing Americans, the house fire.

See American Red Cross page for more fire safety tips on smoke alarms, sprinkler systems and fire extinguishers.