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Home fire extinguishers should be checked and replenished often

Although a fire extinguisher is the last line of defense in a home before calling firefighting professionals, many homeowners don’t have one or know how to use and maintain it.

“It’s better to prevent a fire than to have to put one out,” Henderson Fire Department Deputy Chief Matt Morris said. “Don’t leave food cooking unattended. Don’t leave candles unattended. Make sure you have smoke detectors and that they are working. A fire extinguisher should be the last measure, and it should be used to get everyone out of the house safely.”

North Las Vegas Fire Department Capt. Cedric Williams, the public information/community liaison officer for the department, gives frequent demonstrations on how to properly use a fire extinguisher for businesses and organizations. He recommends that each home have fire extinguishers and said the number and type depends on the size of the home and any special features that might be more likely sources for a fire.

“You should inspect your fire extinguishers monthly,” Williams said. “Check the expiration date; make sure the tank is undamaged; check that the hose is pliable and that there are no cracks; and be sure that the pull-pin is in place and properly secured. A pressure gauge on the extinguisher will tell you if it’s full and ready.”

There are five classes of extinguishers, each used for a different kind of fire. Class A is for ordinary combustible materials, such as paper, fabric and wood. Class B is for flammable liquids, such as gasoline or paint thinner. Class C is for energized electrical equipment.

“If you can take away the electricity by unplugging the device, they generally fall back to type A fires,” Williams said.

Class D extinguishers are for burning metals, which are unlikely to be encountered in a home fire. Class K is for cooking oil and is usually the type you want in a kitchen. The most common place for a domestic fire is in the kitchen, and the fires often are related to cooking.

It’s important to note that water should never be used on an oil fire, as water is likely to spread the oil and the fire further without reducing the fire at all.

It takes a great deal of water to put out most fires, so home fire extinguishers are generally small and use a chemical agent that smothers the oxygen source of the fire. Fire requires fuel, oxygen, heat and a chemical chain reaction, so removing any of those will douse the flame.

Most home fire extinguishers are single-use devices ranging in price from about $20 for a small extinguisher to around $50 to $70 for a larger one. A variety of extinguishers are available in home improvement stores such as Lowe’s or Home Depot. Manufacturers say most extinguishers should work for five to 15 years.

When extinguishing a home fire, Williams recommends standing 6 to 8 feet back from the front edge of the fire and working back. He uses the mnemonic device “P.A.S.S.” in his fire extinguisher instruction sessions.

“Pull the pin,” he said. “Aim the nozzle. Squeeze the handle, and sweep the front edge of the fire.”

Morris said homeowners should be aware of where the fire is and what they can control.

“If you decide to try to put the fire out, always leave your exit open,” he said. “Most times, the fire extinguisher should be used to hold back a fire so everyone can escape safely.

“Even if you get the fire out, you should still evacuate and call 911. If you have a significant fire, it can get into hidden spaces and walls. The fire department can make sure there’s no extension to the fire.”

Fire Prevention Week is Oct. 5-11. For more information, visit fpw.org.

Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at ataylor@viewnews.com or 702-380-4532.

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