Fire Extinguishers: No time to read the directions

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You should have at least one fire extinguisher in your home. Most fires start out small and might be extinguished quickly if your extinguisher is close by, and you know how to use it. But there are lots of mitigating factors.

  • Is the extinguisher close by?
  • Is it in good working order?
  • Will it affect this particular type of fire?
  • Is the fire still small enough to be extinguished?
  • Is there too much smoke to stay in the area?
  • Is the fire blocking your exit?
  • Is a hazardous materials burning?
  • Is it safer to run and call 911?

How Much Time Do You Have?

First, you should know the typical fire extinguisher has only 20 seconds of power. That is not a lot of time, particularly if you’ve never used one. Always call 911! The key point is that your safety is paramount, and if the fire is already growing rapidly, you should get out.

There is a great video produced by Monterey County Fire Investigator’s Association about the flammability of Christmas trees. There is a timer in the lower corner. Imagine you see the fire start, and take 10 seconds to get a fire extinguisher. 20 seconds into the fire the ceiling is ablaze. Fire is fast.

ABC Fire Extinguishers

For the homeowner, an ABC fire extinguisher is what you need. The letters relate to the types of materials the extinguishing substance will work on. An ABC extinguisher works on ordinary combustible materials such as wood, cloth, and paper. It will also extinguish grease, gasoline, and fires involving tools and electrical equipment. That is not to say you should fight any of these fires. Remember to be safe. 20 seconds is all you have.


A fire extinguisher is no use to you if it doesn’t work. It is recommended that you shake your extinguisher to keep the dry chemicals active. Some extinguishers come with a gauge to tell you if they are still viable.

More Information

You can read more on the U.S. Fire Administration site.

The best action to take is CERT training! All Community Emergency Response Team members learn about fire extinguishers, when to use them and how to use them. Everyone in the training has an opportunity to actually put out a fire with an extinguisher. Invaluable experience. Visit the CERT page for more information. You can register on the Calendar page.

Training in Corte Madera May 10

Don’t miss the Fire Extinguisher Training Day May 10. Learn how to use one and actually put out a fire! Read more.

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