Fire Safety

Matt Scanlon discusses fire safety in the home, including types of fire extinguishers, how to be proactive against home fires, using smoke detectors and fire factors when using fireplaces.
By Matt Scanlon
October/November 2000
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Fire safety

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Learn the basics on fire safety in the home and the different types of fire extinguishers available.

A fire needs three ingredients: fuel, heat and air. Eliminate one factor and a fire can be extinguished. Within the United States, fire departments respond to calls approximately every 15 seconds, and a life is lost every 120 minutes. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)'s records report approximately 30,000 individual injuries from fires, over 40,000 annual fatalities, and billions of dollars in property damage. House fires are attributed to accidents with heating and cooking equipment, defective electrical systems, open flames and sparks, flammable liquids, chimneys, cigarettes, and children playing with matches.

The first line of defense in fire safety is, of course, working smoke detectors throughout the home, especially in sleeping quarters. Although 90% of American homes have smoke detectors, about two-thirds of them lack batteries or are obstructed by dust or decaying insects. New detectors with lithium batteries cost between $5 and $10; the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that every residence with fuel-burning appliances be equipped with at least one of these. Underwriters' Laboratories Incorporated suggests installing a carbon-monoxide alarm as well — they range in price from $20 to $80 at your local hardware store. Fire extinguishers should be located on every level of the home, one for every 600 square feet of living area. The Department of Transportation (DOT) puts out information on pressurized containers, while Underwriters' Laboratories lists approved fire extinguishers and manufacturers.

Different fire extinguishers are appropriate for different types of fires: A, B and C (see below). They can cool burning material, deprive flames of oxygen, or interfere with chemical reactions. There are four types including dry chemical (A, B, C), halon (A,B,C), carbon dioxide (B,C) extinguishers and water extinguishers.

— Rachel Rokicki

Class A-combustible solids: wood, paper, plastics, cloth, rubber
Extinguisher Type: H 2 0 or ABC
Class B-flammable liquids: oils, fuels, oil-based compounds, grease, gasoline
Ext. Type: BC or ABC
Class C-electrical equipment: heat lamps, bare wires, Christmas lights, fuse boxes, circuit breakers
Ext. Type: BC or ABC
Class D-combustible metals: magnesium, potassium, sodium
Ext. Type: D

Multiclass extinguishers: BC (carbon dioxide) or ABC (dry chemical) can be used on more than one class of fire. Since most households contain potentially flammable sources from all three classes, an ABC or multipurpose dry-chemical fire extinguisher is most effective.

They can range from 2 1/2to 30 pounds. Recommended brands include Kidde, FirstAlert, Fireater, Badger, General, Pemall, Flag, Fireline, SRT and Amerex. Both one-use-only, rechargeable extinguishers are available. Homeowners should service extinguishers every two years and/or when pressure dents, cracks or holes in the cylinders are manifest. Prices range from $20 to $100.

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