If your fire extinguisher is lurking in a cabinet somewhere, find a more at-the-ready spot for it. Then keep it maintained so it’s up to the task.
Store Your Fire Extinguisher
Is that fire extinguisher you dutifully bought six months ago still resting in its cardboard box in the linen closet? If a fire breaks out in your home, you don’t want to waste time rummaging through towels and cleaning supplies. Find the right spot for your extinguisher -- a place where it’s easy to see and easy to grab. Then, make periodic checks to ensure it works when you pull the pin.
There are plenty of smart places to put an extinguisher in your home: the kitchen, the garage, the laundry area, on each floor. The kind of fire -- combustible, grease, electrical -- likely to start in an area should determine the type of extinguisher. Home-use extinguishers are typically labeled for Class A fires (cloth, wood, paper, many plastics), Class B (grease, gasoline, oil, oil-based paints), or Class C (electrical fires such as with appliances, tools, or other equipment plugged into an outlet). Some can be used on more than one type of fire and are labeled as such.
An important caveat: A fire extinguisher can save a room, your home, and even lives, but use it only in the first stage of a fire, when it’s small and seems obviously manageable — and if the fire is not burning between you and your escape route. If a small flame starts to flicker in a wastebasket — and the extinguisher is handy and working — pull the pin. If flames are licking the bottom of the drapes, first get everybody out of the house and then call the fire department from a cell or a neighbor’s phone.
Study Your Fire Extinguisher
Pull your extinguisher out of the box and read the manufacturer’s instructions for using and maintaining it. Find out what the recommended pressure level is, and make sure the gauge registers that level.
Most models come with a mounting bracket that can easily be screwed to a wall stud or attached to drywall with anchor screws. The National Fire Protection Association recommends that you mount your extinguisher to a wall so that the top is no higher than 5 feet -- an easy reach for adults (but not for young children). If you have an extinguisher that’s heavier than the 5-, 10-, or 20-pound units commonly used in homes, you may want to place it a little lower so it’s easier to grab off the wall. Place it no lower than 4 inches above the floor, however.
- Kitchen: Because fires are more likely to occur in the kitchen, start here. Find a wall or a cabinet within easy reach, a good distance from the stove, and near an exit. If you put the extinguisher in the cabinet under the sink, make sure that the canister is front and center, not hidden behind other items, and that it’s near an exit and away from the stove. Keep in mind, though, that mounting it with a bracket keeps the device stable; bumps and jars to the extinguisher could render it ineffective.
- Living areas: Again, find an obvious, reachable spot near an exit. If bedrooms are upstairs, place an extinguisher in the hallway (but keep in mind you’ll want it close enough to an exit). Does your living room or family room have a fireplace that’s a good distance from the kitchen’s extinguisher? Place a unit near that spot as well.
- Garage: This is an obvious spot to protect against fires from flammable liquids such as gasoline, grease, oil, and oil-based paints. The best spot to put an extinguisher is on the wall near the exit door.
Do you have a disposable (single-use-only) extinguisher, or is it rechargeable? The latter requires testing and servicing by a fire-extinguisher service company, according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule.
Your extinguisher should have some type of pressure-testing mechanism -- often a button. Check it once a month to see whether it reads at the level required by the manufacturer. If it has dropped, replace it (if it’s a disposable extinguisher) or have it recharged.
Inspect the extinguisher for dents or corrosion, and make sure the hose and nozzle are clean.
Also each month, shake the canisters of dry-chemical extinguishers to keep the powder from settling (check the manufacturer’s recommendations, first).
Read all recommendations by the manufacturer.
Have a fire-escape plan for the whole family, and conduct a practice drill twice a year. Make sure escape routes are clear and that doors and windows can be easily opened. Install smoke detectors on each floor of your home, and post the fire department’s phone number in a conspicuous spot.