Fire extinguishers: What you need to know from A to K


portable fire extinguisher

What’s a piece of kitchen equipment that  every cook should have handy and know how to use, but hopes to never need?

A fire extinguisher.

There are a few different types of fire extinguishers. Some are meant for specialized situations, others for more general use. All are classified by two criteria: their mechanism of action, and the types of fires they are meant to extinguish. So first we’ll look at how fires themselves are classified.

According to the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association, there are five types of fires, broken down by fuel source:

  • Class A fires are your regular old fires, started by heat hitting a combustible solid material such as wood, cloth, paper, trash, or plastic.
  • Class B fires spark from flammable liquids or gases, like gasoline,paint, butane,and propane.
  • Class C fires involve powered electrical equipment such as appliances, motors, and transformers. When the electrical power is shut off, these fires become one of the other types of fires.
  • Class D fires are a special group of conflagrations caused by combustible metals like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and aluminum.
  • Class K fires (why K? Because K is for Kitchen!) are fueled by cooking oils and grease from animal or vegetable fats.

Some fire extinguishers are useful in putting out more than one type of fire. Others are more specialized and will have warning labels advising of their proper use.

A fire needs four elements: heat, oxygen, a fuel source, and a chemical reaction. Remove any one of those four and you’ve snuffed that fire. That’s what different fire extinguishers do. Some remove heat. Others take away oxygen. Still others are best at interrupting the chemical reaction causing the blaze.

These are the basic types of fire extinguishers:

  • Water and Foam: these fire extinguishers work by removing heat. Foam-based extinguishers also inhibit the fire’s access to oxygen. Water extinguishers are for Class A fires only. They are NOT for use on Class B or Class C fires – spraying a water extinguisher on a fire caused by a flammable liquid could cause the fire to spread, or in the case of a Class C fire, create the risk of electrical shock.
  • Carbon Dioxide: these extinguishers put out fires by taking away the blaze’s source of oxygen. Their very cold discharge also removes heat.
  • Dry Chemical: these multi-purpose extinguishers are effective on Class A, Class B, and Class C fires. They work by interrupting the chemical reaction creating the fire. They’re the most common type of fire extinguisher found in the home. Some ordinary dry chemical fire extinguishers are designed to put out Class B and Class C fires only; always read the warning label and recommendations before deciding on the right fire extinguisher for your needs.
  • Wet Chemical: by removing heat and creating a barrier between the oxygen and fuel sources feeding the fire, wet chemical fire extinguishers are highly effective against Class K fires, specifically the fires caused by modern,high-efficiency deep-fat fryers found in commercial systems. This is the type of fire-suppression system installed beneath the hoods in many restaurants and commercial kitchens. While also effective in fighting Class A fires, wet chemical fire-extinguishing are generally only used in commercial and industrial applications.
  • Halogenated or Clean Agent: these extinguishers interrupt the chemical processes causing the fire. They’re effective versus Class B and Class C fires.
  • Dry Powder: a specialized type of fire extinguisher used only for putting out Class D fires. Similar to dry chemical extinguishers, but  designed only for putting out combustible metal fires. Not for home use.
  • Water Mist: these relatively new fire extinguishers are designed to replace halogenated extinguishers in situations where contamination is a pressing concern. They remove heat and are most effective against Class A fires.
  • Cartridge-Operated Dry Chemical: like their dry chemical cousins,these fire extinguishers work by interrupting the chemical reaction causing the fire. They can be effective against Class A, Class B, and Class C fires, though ordinary cartridge-operated dry chemical fire extinguishers are most effective in staunching Class B and Class C blazes. Again, always reads the warming labels and buy the fire extinguisher best-suited for your situation.

To learn more about fire extinguishers, check out the Fire Equipment Manufacturers’ Association.

Sound the Alarm Campaign needs volunteers!


Here’s a great way you can help your community: Partner with the Red Cross to help stamp out house fires. From April 28 through May 12, the Red Cross is organizing a push to install smoke alarms in high-risk neighborhoods as part of their annual Sound the Alarm Campaign.

The Sound the Alarm Campaign works in conjunction with community organizations and local fire departments to install free smoke detectors in homes and apartments at no cost to residents.

The vast majority of crises to which the Red Cross responds are not natural disasters like earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, or floods – they’re home fires. Every day, home fires in the US take lives, destroy property, and displace families. That’s why the Red Cross has set a goal to reduce home fires by 25%, and they need your help. They are looking for 35,000 volunteers across the nation to help install alarms.

You can get involved by signing up at to volunteer at the Home Fire Campaign.

  • Donate your time to help install alarms or batteries, or to canvas at-risk neighborhoods.
  • Donate a few dollars to help reduce the threat of home fires in high-risk communities.
  • Attend a fire safety event to learn how to mitigate your risks.
  • If you’re an educator, devote some classroom time to fire safety techniques.
  • See events by date & by state. (PDF)

While you’re at it, take a moment to test your own smoke alarms. Maybe they need fresh batteries! It takes just a minute to keep your family, your pets, and your property protected from the threat of a house fire. Here are more home fire prevention tips.

 

Prevent home heating fires with these tips from the pros


two pairso f stockinged feet before a fireplace

As the temperature drops, home fire risk rises. It just makes sense. While cooking fires are the leading cause of residential fires, heating-related fires come in second place and peak in the month of January. The U.S. Fire Administration recently issued two statistical reports that talk about home heating fires. In their Study of Heating Fires in Residential Buildings (2013-2015), they report that:

  • Approximately 45,900 annual heating fires in U.S. residential buildings were reported to fire departments each year.
  • Annually, heating fires resulted in 200+ deaths, 700+ injuries, and more than half a billion dollars in property loss.
  • Residential heating fires peak in the early evening from 5 to 9 p.m., accounting for 29% of heating-related home fires.
  • Confined fires (fires confined to chimneys, flues or fuel burners) accounted for 75% percent of residential building heating fires.
  • Combustible materials that were too close to the heat source accounted for 29% of non-confined fires.

While only 4% of heating fires in residential buildings involved portable heaters, they were  involved in 43% of fatal home heating fires, a statistic that should give some pause. In the USFA study on Portable Heater Fires in Residential Buildings (2013-2015), they report:

  • Annual estimated occurrence: 1,650 portable heater fires in residential
  • Portable heater fires caused an estimated 90 deaths, 175 injuries, and $84 million in property loss.
  • In 54% of the fires, the heat source was too close to combustible objects
  • About 37% of portable heater fires started in bedrooms.
  • In bedroom fires caused by portable heaters, the leading items ignited (23%) were bedding, such as blankets, sheets, and comforters.

Here’s a short USFA safety clip related to portable heaters.

Heating safety tips

Fire prevention experts say there are many practices you can take to reduce your risk of a heating-related fire in your home. Here are few safety tips we’ve compiled from the experts

Practice the 3-foot safety rule. Keep combustible materials away from the furnace, fireplace, wood stove, or portable space heater.

Maintain a “kid-free zone” around open fires and space heaters. Again, 3 feet is the recommended distance.,

Inspect, clean and test. Have qualified heating professionals inspect and clean furnaces, chimneys and heating equipment every year. Replace batteries in your fire alarms in the spring and fall, and test smoke alarms at least once a month.

Turn off portable heaters when you go to bed or leave a room. Get more space heater safety tips from Travelers,

Never, never, never use ovens or portable grills to heat your home.

Fireplace safety:

  • Use a good quality screen to prevent sparks from jumping.
  • Dispose of ashes in a metal, non-flammable container when they are cold.
  • Dispose of ashes a safe distance away from your home – never beside the home or in the garage or cellar.
  • Learn more about how to dispose of ashes properly – and get a few tips on handy uses for the ash.

Related: see our recent post with money-saving home heating ideas:

Winterizing: Money saving ideas for heating your home

Winter fire safety: a few quick reminders


It’s peak season for home fires. While cooking is the leading cause of home fires year round, heating-related fires are a close second during the winter months – think space heaters, wood stoves and fireplaces. Use of inappropriate and unsafe materials during power outages can also lead to winter fires – relying on candles for lights, using a gas range for heat or a portable grill for cooking. The latter can also result in carbon monoxide poisoning, as can running a generator in or too close to the home.

Here are some short videos from FEMA that offer quick reminders about fire safety.

And with all this snow, don’t forget to dig out your nearest fire hydrant – a mere few minutes can make the difference when it comes to fire.

Candle with Care this holiday season


nfpa-candle-safetyFor many of us, candles are a big part of seasonal celebrations. They’re sometimes used for decorations and sometimes as a part of religious rites. The beautiful glow of candles can make any dinner or event seem festive, nostalgic, and special.

BUT — and there is a very big but — 12% of home candle fires occur in December, 1.5 times the monthly average of 8%, according to the National Fire Prevention Association. Here are some other facts from the NFPA report about candle fires:

  • The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Christmas Eve.
  • More than half (56%) of the home candle fires occurred when some form of combustible material was too close to the candle. Keep candles at least 12 inches from anything that can burn.
  • Roughly one-third of home candle fires started in the bedroom. Falling asleep was a factor in 11% percent of the home candle fires and 37% of the associated deaths. Extinguish all candles before going to sleep.
  • Unattended equipment or abandoned materials or products were contributing factors in almost one of every five (18%) home candle fires. Never leave a burning candle unattended. Blow out candles when you leave a room.
  • Four percent were started by people (typically children) playing with the candle. Keep candles up high out of the reach of children. Never leave a child unattended in a room with a candle. A child should not sleep in a room with a lit candle.
  • Two percent started when the candle was bumped into or knocked over. Make sure candles are placed on a stable piece of furniture in sturdy holders that won’t tip over. Place candles away from spots where they could be knocked over by children or pets.
  • An improper container or storage was a factor in another 2% of the fires. Candles should fit in the holders securely and holders should be made from material that can’t burn.

View this short clip about candle safety and share with your loved ones.