Getting the most out of your fire extinguisher

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A small stove fire breaks out in your kitchen. It doesn’t look like much at first, just a grease fire, but within minutes that small fire can spread to a raging inferno and devour your home.

A fire extinguisher can prevent all of that, but you have to have one, know where it is and know how to use it.

Fire experts said there are three different kinds of fire extinguishers, each designed to fight a different kind of fire.

The Type A fire extinguisher is filled with water and compressed air and is best suited to fight combustible fires.

These are fires involving paper, wood, textiles and plastics.

“If you have a trash fire break out in your house or garage, this type of fire extinguisher would be the ideal tool to put it out with,” said Brian Shirley with the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department.

The Type B fire extinguisher is most effective against chemical and flammable liquid fires.

A good way to remember this is to think of the letter 'B' as in boil, and liquids boil.

We’re talking about gasoline fires, oil fires, kerosene or paint fires.

Two commonly used chemicals effective in fighting these types of fires are mono-ammonium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate.

The Type C fire extinguisher is designed to best fight electrical fires. These are fires that involve live electrical equipment, computers, televisions and items that use lithium batteries, like cellphones.

A simple way to remember the Type C fire extinguisher is to think of the word current. Your electrical devices carry current and current starts with the letter 'C.'

Both mono-ammonium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate can be used in this fire extinguisher, in some cases, CO2 may be used to fight these electrical fires.

Experts say you would never want to try to put out a lithium battery fire using water, as in a Type A fire extinguisher, because lithium reacts violently to water and hitting it with water can make the fire even worse.

“Well, it’s going to make the fire much worse. It will cause sparking and popping and actually it could cause the fire to spread, because when you hit the lithium with water, it’s going to explode,” Shirley said.

Which fire extinguisher should you buy?

“Your best bet is to purchase a reliable home fire extinguisher that will work on any fire. Look for an extinguisher that is labeled A, B, C, meaning it will handle anything," said Brian Shirley with the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department.

How many should you buy?

“It’s best to have one fire extinguisher for every floor in your house," Shirley said. "A fire extinguisher in the kitchen is a must. Make sure you put it within easy reach but keep it away from the stove, so if a fire breaks out on the stove, you can easily get to it and won’t be blocked by flames."

Once you have your fire extinguishers in place, make sure everyone in the house knows where they are kept.

Check them every six months, at the same time you should be checking your smoke detectors.

Check the pressure valve on the top of the fire extinguisher and make sure the pressure reads 100 percent.

Without pressure, the extinguisher is worthless.

Fire extinguishers should be replaced every seven years.

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