The smoke detector has a well-deserved reputation for saving lives. Its natural ally, the portable fire extinguisher, is another tool that should be in every home. It’s the most effective piece of equipment for fighting a fire in its initial stages—provided that it’s stored in a handy location and used properly!

The right extinguisher

An effective portable extinguisher must enable you to fight different types of fire: burning solids, liquids and gases, as well as flames from live electrical appliances. An extinguisher rated 2A 10BC, bearing a certification label from a recognized organization like ULC (Underwriters Laboratories of Canada), fills the bill.
The 2A 10BC rating on the label confirms that an extinguisher meets two criteria:

  • It can be used to combat a Class A (wood or paper) fire measuring 2 square feet (2A) or a Class B (gas or oil) fire of 10 square feet (10B); and
  • It contains an extinguishing agent that will not conduct electricity (C).

The right place

Having a powerful enough, code-compliant extinguisher in your home is a step in the right direction. If you ever need it, however, it will only be useful if it is:

  • easily accessible; and
  • located away from a potential source of fire such as a stove or heating apparatus.

Put the extinguisher in a highly visible location, near an exit. It should be mounted on a wall or otherwise placed so that it is between 4 inches (10 cm) and 5 feet (1.5 m) off the floor. The instructions for use and maintenance will be attached to the extinguisher; do not remove them. Be sure you read and understand them when you buy and install the extinguisher.

Don’t neglect maintenance

Some extinguishers are rechargeable; others aren’t, and have a useful life span of 12 years. Check which kind you are buying. Remember that a rechargeable model must be refilled every six years or if it has been used, even if only for a few seconds.

Whichever model you choose, it must be inspected regularly. Among other things, you should pick it up every few months to make sure it is still full, and check that the needle of the manometer (the pressure gauge) is pointing to the green area of the dial. Also check for any traces of rust or other damage. If you find any, replace the extinguisher.

The basics: when and how to use an extinguisher!

So as not to endanger your life or that of your loved ones, be sure to use your extinguisher only:

  • on a small fire or one that is in its earliest stages;
  • if the room has not filled with smoke;
  • after all occupants of your home (including pets) have been evacuated.

Position yourself between the source of the fire and an exit, about 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 m) from the flames. Aim at the base of the flames and squeeze the extinguisher handle, sweeping side-to-side across the full width of the fire.
If the flames will not go out, the room fills up with smoke, or the extinguisher empties, do not continue fighting the fire; leave immediately. Keep in mind that a fire doubles in size every minute!
If no one has done so yet, call 9-1-1: even if you’ve extinguished the flames, the fire department must be contacted as a preventive measure. The fire could have spread somewhere or continued smouldering, without you knowing it, after you put out the visible flames.

Properly disposing of an old extinguisher

There are two ways to dispose of an extinguisher after it has done its duty—or its expiration date has passed:

  • Disposable dry chemical extinguisher: discharge it outside on a day with no wind, and then take it to an Eco-centre for recycling;
  • Disposable halon extinguisher that is more than 12 years old, or damaged extinguisher: return it to the manufacturer or service provider.

Source: Quebec Ministry of Public Security