If used correctly, fire extinguishers and other fire safety systems can save lives. They’re employed for the immediate suppression of small fires in residential and commercial areas. It is imperative that your fire extinguisher is positioned near an exit—readily available to suppress small fires before fire-fighters arrive on scene. But, before you squeeze the trigger on any extinguisher, you need to know a few things about using and maintaining your household fire extinguisher.

Get To Know Your Fire Extinguisher

There are five types of fire extinguishers, each identifiable by the letters of the alphabet and all designated to suppress different kinds of fire. The first three extinguishers — A, B, and C — can be found in homes and businesses. “A” labelled extinguishers are designed to suppress flames from ordinary materials like cloth, wood, and paper; the “B” labelled extinguisher suppresses fires caused by combustible and flammable liquids such as grease, gasoline, oil, and oil-based paints; “C” labelled extinguishers suppress live electrical fires. The last two extinguishers on the list include D for flammable liquid fires, which is found in factories, and K for fires from cooking fats and grease, which can be found in commercial kitchens. You may notice that the label on your extinguisher is accompanied by a number in fine print. This number represents ratings that identify the extinguisher’s effectiveness against each type of fire. Higher numbers are associated with greater ratings. In other words, an extinguisher labelled 4-A is more effective, and consequently more expensive, than the extinguisher labelled 2-A.

Know How To Use Your Extinguisher

It is key to know how to use your fire extinguisher before using it. Remember the acronym PASS, which will help you keep in mind key points when using your extinguisher. P – Pull the safety pin. With this on, you won’t be able to operate your equipment. A – Aim the chemical at the base of the flame. Directing the nozzle at the fire itself will not suppress the flames—instead it’ll go right through them. S – Squeeze the lever slowly and hold to release the cooling agent. S – Sweep the nozzles sideways until you’ve extinguished the fire or until the extinguisher runs dry.

Know How to Properly Maintain Your Extinguisher

Now that you know how to use your equipment, you need to learn how to maintain it. Practice proper maintenance — this helps guarantee that your extinguisher will perform as it should. First, check the gauge on your extinguisher to ensure that its pressure is neither too high nor too low. Also bear in mind that you must refill your extinguisher after every use. Consult your user manual or a professional’s advice to learn what your extinguisher’s recommended pressure level is. Second, you need to keep the extinguisher’s parts — cans, hoses, and nozzles — in working condition. That means that your extinguisher should be free from dents and rust. Third, clean the body on your extinguisher. Keep it free from dust, oil, and all sorts of grime that can accumulate over time. And finally, some extinguishers require monthly shakes, while others require pressure tests. To maintain upkeep, ensure that you’re closely following all guidelines and instructions on your extinguisher’s user manual.

Be Mindful of This…

An extinguisher is a vital investment. Some experts, such as the National Fire Extinguisher Associations, even go as far as to recommend more than one extinguisher to every household. Though owning an extinguisher is of utmost importance, having a household fire escape plan is even more important. Make sure that everyone in your household knows how and where to escape to during an emergency.