Where Should I Put It?
To make extinguishers an effective part of your fire-safety plan, consider where and how to mount them in your home. The NFPA offers these simple guidelines: Put at least one extinguisher on each level. Buy enough so you don't have to walk more than 40 feet from any point to get to one. Measure around furniture and corners and down hallways. And consider placing one in the kitchen, garage, work room, or any area with open-flame heating. Never put an extinguisher above a range or other item where a fire could originate. It's useless if you can't get to it. Locate extinguishers near exits. This prevents the fire from coming between you and your escape route. Put extinguishers in plain view, never inside a cabinet or closet. Mount extinguishers high, yet within reach of all adults in your family. Most extinguishers come with a mounting bracket that attaches to the wall. Be sure you and others know how to release the clamp holding the unit in the bracket. How Do I Use It?
Most extinguishers come labeled with printed or visual instructions according to a method known as P-A-S-S. Because you won't have time to read the instructions during a fire, learn to use an extinguisher before you need it. Start by reading the owner's manual. "When someone says, 'I own an extinguisher,' I say, 'Tell me about it — what kind of extinguisher is it and how do you operate it?'" says the NFPA's Conroy. "Never put yourself in a fire situation with an extinguisher you don't know anything about." Conroy also suggests that homeowners get hands-on experience. "I've found that people are genuinely surprised at both the noise an extinguisher makes during operation and the amount of dust it produces. Knowing what to expect will raise your confidence level." Where do you get that experience? Contact your local fire department and ask if the department provides it. If it can't hold a training session for one person, increase the group size by getting friends and neighbors involved. Or, try religious institutions, civic groups, and even your employer. If these options fail, Julie Reynolds, director of public affairs for the NFPA, suggests this creative strategy: "If there's a fire-protection company or distributor in your area, gather some friends and approach the company with a deal: They provide training and you'll buy five extinguishers from them." How Do I Maintain It?
An extinguisher won't work unless it maintains pressure greater than the atmosphere. Check the gauge monthly for any sudden drops; the owner's manual should tell you how to do this. If pressure is low, discard the unit if it's disposable (ask about local regulations) or contact your service company if it's rechargeable. Also check for dents, punctures, and corrosion along the cylinder body, as well as for chipping, cracking or crimping on the head and nozzle — even if you have a professional service plan. If you find damage or signs of a leak, replace the unit. Like smoke detectors, portable fire extinguishers reduce the risk of fire damage or injury, but they're not a cure-all. They must be chosen, maintained, placed, and used the right way, on the right type of fire. By following that approach, an extinguisher just might save you and your family from a catastrophe. David Webster is a freelance writer and 10-year veteran of the fire department in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
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