An important part of being prepared for natural disasters is knowing how to identify the three most common types of fires, how and when to operate a fire extinguisher, and how to make sure your extinguishers are operational.
What you need:
Every floor of your home should have a 3-A:40-B:C fire extinguisher. The letters refer to the types of fire the extinguisher is capable of putting out.
A - ordinary combustibles: wood, paper, cloth, trash, some plastics. Type A fires can be put out with water or a fire extinguisher. The number before the A on the extinguisher tells you its equivalent strength in water: for example 3-A is as effective as 3 ¾ gallons of water.
B - liquids: oil, cooking grease, gasoline, and other flammable or combustible liquids: Type B fires can be put out by smothering their oxygen supply or by using a fire extinguisher. NEVER use water on a Type B fire: water and oil don't mix so the water will sink into the oil and evaporate, spreading the fire. The number before the B on the extinguisher tells you the size in square feet that can be put out when swept back and forth: for example 40:B-C can handle a 40-square foot area.
C - energized electrical equipment: wiring, appliances connected to electricity like toasters or hair dryers, and fuse boxes. Usually Type C fires are caused by overloaded outlets, short circuits, overheating appliances, or bad wiring. NEVER use water on a Type C fire: water may spread the fire or cause electrocution. Use an ABC-rated fire extinguisher, and turn off the associated breaker in your home's electrical panel. When electricity is cut off, a Type C fire turns into Type A. Any time you have had an electrical fire, contact the fire department to check for faulty wiring, damaged cords, etc. To help protect your home against Type C fires, ensure your home's wiring is up to code and inspect wires regularly for tears and corrosion. Do not use damaged cords or plugs, ensure sockets and appliances are a safe distance from water, cover exposed sockets around young children, do not overload extension cords, and do not cover wires with rugs or furniture. A timed shut-off power socket can help ensure appliances like curling irons are not accidentally left on.
Only fight a fire yourself if:
-It is small and contained
-You have a safe and easily accessible escape route
-You are safe from toxic smoke
-Your instincts tell you it's ok
If you have any doubts as to your safety, evacuate as quickly as possible, closing doors as you leave, and call 9-1-1 as soon as you are at a safe distance.
If you assess that it is safe to extinguish the fire, use the P-A-S-S method
Pull: pull the pin out of the handle
Aim: aim the nozzle of the extinguisher at the base of the fire. Stand about six feet away
Squeeze: firmly squeeze the handle to start the flow, and keep it pressed down
Sweep: sweep from side to side until the fire is fully out.
Once the fire is fully out, your extinguisher needs to be recharged or properly disposed.
Inspect your fire extinguishers on a monthly basis:
-Check the gauge to see if it is over-charged or needs to be re-charged.
-Look for damage or corrosion
-Check the nozzle for obstruction
-Check hose flexibility, and look for any cracks
Apartment and office buildings are usually required to have an annual inspection. Make sure that the inspection form on each floor's extinguisher is compliant with yearly checks.