Every home should have at least one fire extinguisher for the kitchen, one for the garage, and if you have a separate workshop, one there. However, there are several types to choose from, so how do you know which one is proper?

b2ap3_thumbnail_fireThere are 4 categories of fire extinguishers for different types of fires:

Class A

This is for ordinary combustible materials like wood, paper and cardboard. It also includes most plastics. These types of extinguishers may be filled with water that is air pressurized, but you should only use a Class A extinguisher when you know that only ordinary combustible materials are involved.

Class B

Kitchen fires need this type of extinguisher. It is for flammable or combustible liquids, including grease, oil, oil-based paints and gasoline. Water should never be used on a grease fire, as it will spread the fire.

Class C

If you have an electrical fire, you’ll want to break out this this type of fire extinguisher. It is for appliances and tools that are plugged in, or electrically charged equipment. Many people don’t know that you should never use water on an electrical fire because of the risk of electrical shock.

Class D

Class D models extinguish fires that involve combustible metals, so you will usually only see these in businesses that use metals.

Class K

You will mostly find these extinguishers in commercial kitchens, as they are for fires involving vegetable or animal oils or fats. However, you can buy a Class K extinguisher for use in your home kitchen as well.

It’s possible that a fire has a combination of these categories. If your fire extinguisher has an “ABC” rating, it is good for Class A, B and C fires. Such extinguishers are usually filled with dry chemicals and pressurized by nitrogen. They leave behind a residue that can damage equipment and other items, however they are better than carbon dioxide (CO2) extinguishers because they leave a non-flammable material to prevent the fire from re-igniting. A CO2 fire extinguisher is only meant for Class B and C fires. They contain highly pressurized carbon dioxide, and they don’t leave any residue, which is why they are good for electrical fires. Class D extinguishers should only be used on Class D fires.

If you’ve never used a fire extinguisher before, remember these 4 simple steps:

  • Pull the pin so you can discharge the contents of the fire extinguisher.
  • Aim at the base of the fire because that is where the fuel is. Don’t be tempted to hit the flames.
  • Squeeze the lever so the contents come out. If you let go, nothing will come out.
  • Sweep the extinguisher from side to side until the fire is out.

Always make sure you stand at a safe distance and move in closer to the fire once it gets smaller.

Most fire extinguishers only have 10 seconds of use. If the fire extinguisher has already been partially discharged or is old, it may have even less than that. Be sure you immediately recharge the extinguisher once it’s been used.

Even though it may sound like a fire extinguisher is easy to use, proper training will help you in an emergency situation. For example, you will learn that it is only safe to use a fire extinguisher: 1) when everyone has been notified of the fire, 2) you know the fire department has been called, 3) the fire is small, 4) you are not inhaling toxic smoke and 5) you have a way to escape. If all of these conditions are not met, make sure everyone is out and call the fire department from a safe location.

Just like everything else, fire extinguishers need to be maintained. They should be stored in an accessible place, be pressurized at the proper level, not have any damage and be clean. If you have a dry chemical extinguisher, shake it so the powder doesn’t settle.

It is also a good idea to have several fire extinguishers in your home. Just be sure to have the right extinguisher for the area and that you know how to use each one.