Eight to 10 seconds. That's how long experts say you have to knock down a small fire with many portable fire extinguishers before they discharge completely.
Just how fast is that? It takes about 10 seconds to read the first two paragraphs of this article. With so little time, it's important that your fire extinguisher is easily accessible and that everyone in the family knows the right way to use it.
The A-B-Cs of fire extinguishers
That's the general-use model that's recommended for homes because it's good on the types of fires you're most likely to encounter: combustibles (like wood, fabric and paper), flammable liquids (like cooking oil) and electrical (like a flaming toaster).
Beyond the A-B-C rating, pick a style that you can comfortably handle – the bigger the extinguisher, the longer it will spray before its contents discharge completely. But as size increases, so does weight. You'll want to balance that with the strength and agility of the people (kids, elders) who potentially would be using it.
You also may want to choose an extinguisher that, aesthetically, you wouldn't mind keeping in plain sight so it's within easy reach in an emergency. You should have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, garage, deck (if you grill) and in the hallway outside bedrooms. If you have a barn or detached workshop, keep one there, too. You'll also want one in the car as part of your take-along emergency kit.
In a 2017 PEMCO Poll, we asked Northwesterners if they own a fire extinguisher – and 25% said no!
Teach everyone in the family how to use a fire extinguisher
In that same PEMCO Poll, only 35% of women in Washington said they felt confident they could use a fire extinguisher properly. The number was slightly higher in Oregon at 41%. About three out of four men in both states said they're confident they'd know what to do.
Our take: That's a lot of people who would be left scrambling in a fire emergency.
It helps to remember the word "PASS." It stands for:
Pull the pin.
Squeeze the trigger
Sweep from side to side.
We've put together this short video to help.
Remember to stand at least 8 feet away, because you can accidentally fan the flames if you stand too close when you blast the fire. If the fire doesn't start going out within seconds, give up the fight, get out of the house and call the fire department.
Fire extinguishers are purposely low maintenance, but they don't last forever. Here's a good habit to remember: When you replace your smoke detector batteries (at the twice-yearly clock change), check to make sure your fire extinguisher's dial is still reading in the green. That means it's full and ready to use. Most household fire extinguishers are the non-refillable kind, and estimates of their lifespan range from five to 15 years. We recommend replacing them on the lower end of the scale, even if they're still showing green. Also, replace your fire extinguishers whenever you move to a new home (they also make a practical, if not very exciting, housewarming gift).
A fire extinguisher is just one part of your fire safety plan. Know the 10 rules of fire-safe living, which include making sure every family member knows at least two ways to get out of every room in the house in a fire emergency.