Your local firefighters care about your safety and want to make sure that you have options when a fire occurs in your home. A fire extinguisher is an excellent option. Fire extinguishers are relatively inexpensive and may mean the difference between a small fire that is easily extinguished and one that can completely destroy your home. Fire extinguishers can contain a fire until the fire department arrives. Although fire extinguishers do have limitations, they can certainly save lives and protect property.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are nearly 340,000 fires in residential homes every year. In fact, a fire in a home is reported every 90 seconds and, unfortunately, a life is lost in a home fire every three hours.

Remember, you are never obligated or required to fight a fire! Always follow your instinct. If you have even the slightest doubt about your control of the situation or your ability to fight the fire safely, let the fire department handle it. Just evacuate the area and be sure someone has already called 911. It is very important to remember that fire grows and spreads rapidly, so the first priority for residents is always to get out safely and stay out.

There are some specific situations that should be considered when deciding whether or not to use a fire extinguisher. For example, if the fire is confined to a small area, such as a wastebasket, and is not growing, it is probably safe to use a fire extinguisher. If everyone has exited the building and you have a clear path to exit the room, it is probably safe to use a fire extinguisher. If the room is not filled with smoke, you can see the source of the fire, and the heat is tolerable, it is probably safe to use a fire extinguisher.

If you decide that the situation allows you to safely attempt to extinguish a fire using an extinguisher, consider the following questions, and only attempt to fight the fire if the answer is yes to every question.

Is a fire extinguisher available? Does the type of fire extinguisher match the type of fire? Do you know how to use a fire extinguisher? Do you feel comfortable attempting to fight the fire? Is the fire still small and not spreading rapidly? Again, unless the answer to all of these questions is an absolute yes, do not attempt to extinguish the fire. Just evacuate the area and make sure someone called 911.

The United States Fire Administration recommends using the letters of the word PASS to help you safely and properly use a fire extinguisher. These letters represent the four steps to take when using a fire extinguisher: Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep. When faced with a fire, PASS will help you remember what to do. Pull the pin while holding the extinguisher with the nozzle pointing away from you. Aim the nozzle of the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Squeeze the handles together to start to discharge the contents of the extinguisher. Sweep the nozzle from side-to-side to fully cover the burning material.

PASS will help you remember how to use the extinguisher, but it is also very important to remember to keep your back to a clear exit when you use an extinguisher, and to maintain situational awareness of your surroundings so you can make an easy escape if the fire cannot be controlled.

Your local firefighters recommend that you install at least two ABC multipurpose dry chemical extinguishers in your home. Generally speaking, a 5-pound ABC dry chemical extinguisher can be used on all types of home fires and is large enough to put out a small fire, but not too heavy to handle. Place the extinguishers in visible locations that are close to exits and easily accessible. The top of the basement stairs, the kitchen, and the garage are great locations for fire extinguishers. It is important to read the operating instructions and become familiar with the extinguishers before the stress of an emergency is added to the situation.

The NFPA recommends that you inspect your fire extinguisher monthly and look for signs of damage. Verify that the pressure gauge reads full, and have the extinguisher replaced or recharged if the gauge is less than full. Check to see that the extinguisher is not blocked by anything that could interfere with easy access during an emergency. Make sure that the nozzle is not obstructed and that both the pin and the seal are still intact. Inspect the outside of the extinguisher to ensure there are no dents, leaks, rust, or other signs of wear. If there are any indications of the above deficiencies, replace the extinguisher.

Remember, fire extinguishers are only one part of your fire safety plan. To help you survive a fire in your home, every household should have a fire escape plan, a designated meeting place, readily accessible fire extinguishers, and properly installed and functioning smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.

For more information about fire extinguishers, visit You may also contact your local fire department if you have questions about fire extinguishers or if you would like to participate in a free fire extinguisher training class.

Jane Perkins is a fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please email her at

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