How to prepare your family to survive and thrive in todays uncertain world

How To Choose A Fire Extinguisher

This is a bit of a timely post, since we just picked up some replacement fire extinguishers for some that had expired.  I figure that some of you probably don’t know how to choose a fire extinguisher.

Let’s fix that minor problem because having the right extinguishers, and enough of them, is a critical part of being prepared.

There are a two main things to keep in mind when choosing a fire extinguisher.

The first is the type of fire the extinguisher is rated for.  The second is how much extinguishing agent the thing contains.

These two things combined are the rating of the extinguisher.  They’re typically written as a combination of a number and a letter for each fire class the extinguisher is rated.  A bit about each, before we go on to concrete recommendations.

Fire Classes

In the United States, we have five standard fire classes that are used when describing the capabilities of a fire extinguisher.  The only ones we really care about right now is the first three, so we’ll skip the others.

Class A

A class A fire is your generic fire that burns solid combustible fuel.  A wood fire, or a trash can fire, or something along those lines is a class A fire.  Class A extinguishers are rated by the water equivalent of the extinguishing agent.

The number in that rating is multiplied by 1.25 and you get the equivalent extinguishing ability in gallons of water.  So an extinguisher rated 2-A has the same capacity to extinguish a fire as 2.5 gallons of water.

Class A extinguishers are usually labeled with a pictogram of a burning garbage can and woodpile.  Sometimes they also have a green triangle in addition to the pictogram.

Class B

A class B fire is one that is fueled by flammable liquids or gases.  A kitchen fire will typically be a class B fire, as would a gasoline fire.  Class B extinguishers are rated by the square footage that you should be able to extinguish with the agent.

The number in the rating represents that square footage, so an extinguisher rated 10-B should be able to extinguish 10 square feet of burning oil, for example.

Class B extinguishers are usually labeled with a pictogram of a fuel container and a burning puddle.  It will sometimes also have a red square symbol in addition to the pictogram.

Class C

A class C fire is an electrical fire, or a fire that is in or around energized electrical equipment.  Class C extinguishers don’t have a number rating.  Having a class C rating simply means that the extinguishing agent is non conductive and is therefor suitable for use on energized equipment.  You will never see a Class C extinguisher by itself, it will always have another rating.

Class C extinguishers are usually labeled with a pictogram of an electrical plug and a burning power outlet.  It will sometimes have a blue circle as well as the pictogram.

Multi Class Extinguishers

Many extinguishers are rated for multiple classes of fire.  They are often useful as general purpose extinguishers for household use.  Make sure that if you have one it is properly labeled.

Extinguishing Agents

There are three main kinds of extinguishing agents used in household extinguishers.  This skips over stuff like Halon which isn’t really a good idea to use around the house.

Dry chemical extinguishers are generally multi class extinguishers. They contain an dry extinguishing agent and use a compressed, non-flammable gas as a propellant.  Common dry chemical agents are sodium bicarbonate (baking soda!), potassium chloride, or other similar agents.  Foams are sometimes used instead of dry chemicals, they basically smother the fire.

Water extinguishers contain water pressurized by an inert gas.  They should only be used on Class A fires.

Carbon dioxide extinguishers are most effective on Class B and C  fires. Since the CO2 disperses quickly carbon dioxide extinguishers are only effective from a few feet away. The carbon dioxide is stored as a compressed liquid in the extinguisher.  Similar to dry ice, it cools the surrounding air as it expands. This will often cause ice to form around the nozzle when the extinguisher is used.  With CO2 extinguishers it’s important to keep applying the agent even after the fire looks like it’s out, since Class B and C fires flare up easily.

Choosing Your Extinguishers

You need to have three different kinds of extinguishers.  First, you need one in every vehicle.  Second, you need to have one in the kitchen.  Third, you need to have one on every floor.  Fourth … well, we’ll talk about that later!

Vehicle Extinguishers

The primary problem in a car fire is fuel, so for your cars you can be happy with a BC extinguisher.  You need to have at least a 5-B:C extinguisher in the car.  Around here you see brush fires and whatnot on a somewhat regular basis though, so I actually use a general purpose extinguisher.

We have this general purpose extinguisher in our cars.

Kitchen Extinguishers

This is the extinguisher you use in case of grease fires.  We use a 10-B:C extinguisher in the kitchen.  This thing doesn’t ever leave the kitchen and we keep it near the stove.

This is the extinguisher we have in the kitchen. Unlike the other extinguishers we have in the house, it’s disposable and not rechargeable.

General Household Extinguishers

You should have an emergency extinguisher on each floor.  This should be a general purpose extinguisher, though you could get away with one that’s rated AC.  We have a 2-A:10-B:C rated extinguisher on every floor of the house which is the rating the National Fire Protection Association recommends for every floor of a living space.

This is the extinguisher we use on each floor of the house. It’s a 4lb extinguisher, so it has 4lb of the dry chemical agent.

The Big Boy

This is the fourth one I alluded to a few minutes ago.  This is basically a jumbo size extinguisher that you use for some of those bigger problems you might run across.  We keep ours in the garage, which is only a few steps away from our main living area.  It also covers the garage obviously.

This is what we use. It’s a 10lb extinguisher that’s rated 4-A:60-B:C, so it’s a pretty hefty item.

Wrapping It Up

Look, this is something you can’t do without.  If you don’t have good fire protection, you need to fix that problem right away.  A house fire is one of the most common disasters you’ll face in your life.  Get prepared now.

Let me know in the comments section or email me if you have any questions!

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