A person standing in front of a refrigerator, with Red Fire Extinguisher

The One Simple Thing You Must Have in Your Home

My heart was pounding, the smoke alarm was screaming and I was in full-on panic mode. Flames were reaching toward the upper kitchen cabinets. It happened so fast! I didn’t have time to run to the pantry to search for baking soda.

I had a rip-roaring fire on my hands and I was in slow motion thinking about how sad it would be to be homeless for Christmas.

I’d turned my back for a few seconds to find a utensil. When I returned, small flames were shooting from the burner. My quick thinking told me to smother a grease fire, so I grabbed a pot lid to do that, but it wasn’t airtight and soon the flames were double the size and spreading.

That’s when I locked eyeballs with the fire extinguisher that had been sitting on the counter for so long it blended into the décor.

I’d never engaged a fire extinguisher before. I read the instructions once but that’s about it. Not knowing what to expect, I grabbed that thing, jerked out the red plastic ring (it came out easily), pointed the nozzle, and pulled the trigger. It put out the fire with one mighty blast of fine yellow powder so strong and powerful it nearly knocked me off my feet.

Shocking stats

My experience not only woke me up, but it also sent me into research mode. What I learned is sobering, if not shocking: Each year, fire kills more Americans than all other natural disasters combined. Eighty percent of all fire deaths occur in residences. Where do those residential fires start? In the kitchen!

First call 911

As grateful as I am, I did not do everything by the book. A fire extinguisher is no substitute for the fire department. One-third of all people injured by fire are hurt while trying to control it. Fire safety professionals tell us to call 911 first. Then, use the extinguisher.

Be sure that you can get out fast and that the fire is small and not spreading. Grab that thing, stand back six feet and engage!

If the fire does not go out quickly, close the door to the room, get everyone out of the house, and exit the premises promptly. Meet the fire department in front and direct them to the location of the fire.

How Many Fire Extinguishers Should I Have?

You should have, at minimum, one fire extinguisher for every 600 to 700 sq. ft. per floor of your home. Howeer, if you do have only one extinguisher, it should be in a centrally located area, mounted off the ground and in an easy-to-see place so that in the event of a fire, no one wastes time searching for it.

However, it’s recommended that you have a fire extinguisher handy for any location that’s a potential fire hazard. This includes near chimneys, fireplaces, a furnace, the stove, the dryer, or other potentially risky areas.

Memorize: P-A-S-S

Attack the fire using the PASS method:

Pull the pin

By pulling the pin, the operating lever should unlock and allow you to discharge the extinguisher.

Aim low

Point the extinguisher hose or nozzle at the base of the fire.

Squeeze the lever

This should discharge the extinguishing agent. Some extinguishers may have a button or other means of activation. Know your extinguisher!

Sweep from side to side

While you are aiming at the base of the fire, you should sweep back and forth until the fire is extinguished. If the fire re-ignites, repeat the process.

If the fire does not go out quickly, close the door to the room, get everyone out of the house and exit the premises promptly. Meet the fire department in front and direct them to the location of the fire.

Best Inexpensive

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Amerex Fire Extinguisher

This chemical extinguisher is perfect for the home and garage. It will work on all kinds of fires—trash, wood, and paper; flammable liquids; and electrical blazes. It weighs 10 lbs. and holds 5 lbs. of powder. That’s not super lightweight but very manageable. And it is rechargeable.

 

 

 

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First Alert Tundra

This option is an easier-to-use than the traditional canister extinguisher. Even though smaller and appearing to be more humble than say the Amerex above, this aerosol can option is capable of putting out all major kinds of small fires, including grease and electrical fires. Having one of these in every room of your house would be a very good idea. Not rechargeable.

 

 

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First Alert Kitchen

This First Alert Kitchen extinguisher delivers a sodium bicarbonate extinguishing agent—baking soda!—under extreme pressure. Designed to fight flammable liquid and electrical fires. Stores easily in a cabinet or with its attractive mounting bracket. Rechargeable.

 

 

Lifespan

Fire extinguishers do not have infinite lifespans. They expire. The typical portable extinguisher that has not been opened remains in good condition between 5 to 15 years. But you don’t have to guess or wonder if it’s fully charged and ready to go.

Keep your eye on expirations dates and or gauge readings. The last thing you want in the face of a fire is an extinguisher that won’t respond!

 

fire extinguisher

 

Look for the pressure gauge on the extinguisher itself. Check to make sure the needle on the gauge is in the green zone. That indicates that it is still good. Once that needle moves into the red zone it should be replaced or recharged. (Small extinguishers for home use are often “single-use” products and cannot be recharged. Read the labels.)

Get it recharged

Traditional extinguishers like Amerex Fire Extinguisher are rechargeable. This process should not take longer than 10 to 20 minutes and can commonly be done at local fire stations (for no charge) or through private service companies.

During recharge, the extinguisher service company will completely refill the extinguisher and check to make sure it is holding the proper pressure.

Keep in mind that it may be more cost-efficient to purchase a new extinguisher if the one you have is for household usage. By the time the recharge has been done, the new one could be the same price if not cheaper.


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7 replies
  1. Emily Booth says:

    Several years ago, I awoke to a refrigerator that was hot. Almost everything in the freezer and the refrigerator was thrown out. It turned out to be the mother board in the back. I was so happy I was home when this happened. If I had been out of town, it may have turned into a fire.

    Reply
  2. Ruthie Fearamcot says:

    I recently retired from my office job at a local fire extinguisher company. It was amazing to learn so much about fire extinguishers; the different types, the correct way to use, and much more. If you have one in your house, good…. but don’t keep it hidden. It may not match your décor, but if it’s hidden under the kitchen sink or behind a closet door, there’s little chance someone could find it when seconds count. These can be purchased at hardware stores, big box stores such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and many others. When deciding on which model or brand, look closely at the box for the word RECHARGEABLE. Getting a fire extinguisher for a few dollars less may be a DISPOSABLE type. These can only be thrown away after one use. A rechargeable can be refilled after every use. Discharging a fire extinguisher even a little bit (“I just want to see if it works”) means it must be recharged to be ready for use when needed. Consider buying and giving one for a Christmas gift or a school raffle. Every vehicle on the road should have a fire extinguisher… for your vehicle or possibly for someone else’s. It’s good to learn to read the gauge on a fire extinguisher on a regular basis, as some have known to leak down and must have the pressure recharged. My husband and I recently saw a young man trying to put out a small fire on a large riding mower that he had just loaded on the trailer. We immediately stopped and used our fire extinguisher to prevent what could have possibly grown into a terrible situation. The next time you’re wondering what to give that person who is so hard to buy for… consider a fire extinguisher!

    Reply
    • Lija W says:

      What an excellent idea! I’m going to start giving fire extinguishers as gifts and next time I donate to a raffle. Thank you for the excellent idea to give them as gifts!

      Reply
  3. Patti Thompson says:

    Excellent post. A Fire Chief friend told us the fire extinguisher needs to be by the exit of the room. You should never have to go towards or into the fire or room to get your extinguisher. It needs to be near your exit. He also said to replace all smoke alarms every 5 years no matter what the package says (10yrs). They get dirty from dust, grease, hair spray, spray air fresheners etc. This slows down their reaction time. I have the upmost respect for him so we follow his suggestions in our home.

    Reply
  4. Imogene says:

    In the early ‘80s, the nursing home I worked at had training on extinguishing fires. The maintenance man aimed the fire extinguisher at a bed (outside) and really had to prove they worked. The fire set upon the bed melted the new covering the nursing home bought. Those coverings disappeared off beds that very day.

    Reply
  5. Martha Heagany says:

    I gave 6 people a Tundra for Christmas last year…they all that what a great and smart idea that was!

    Reply
  6. Pat C says:

    A very important post.

    R.A.C.E : An acronym that hospital personnel across North America use to remember their duties in case of fire. It stands for RESCUE, ALARM, CONFINE, EXTINGUISH/EVACUATE. It there are people in the home who will not be able to escape on their own such as babies and small children, the frail elderly, the first step MUST be to get them out. Better that your home burns to the ground, than your baby dies. If there is someone with seriously impaired mobility, i.e., very unsteady or uses a wheelchair, work with their OT to develop a plan for how you’re going to get them out. And if you live miles from anyone else, have a plan for how people will stay warm until the first responders get here. My mother told me that as a child on the farm in the 20s and 30s, they knew of several farm families who had gotten out of the house but then frozen to death. Nightgowns are not much use as -20.

    Reply

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