Buying Guide

How to Choose Fire Safety Equipment

Fire Extinguishers
A fire extinguisher placed on the floor next to a doorway.

Fire extinguishers are classified by ratings of A, B and C. These ratings determine the size and type of fire that the extinguisher can put out.


  • Class A extinguishers are rated for fires that involve ordinary household items such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber and plastics. The numerical rating on class A extinguishers represents the capacity in terms of an equivalent volume of water. Class 1-A extinguishers have the equivalent of 1.25 gallons of water and a 4-A has the equivalent of 5 gallons.
  • Class B extinguishers are rated for fires involving flammable liquids such as kitchen grease, gasoline, oil, solvents and oil-based paint. Class B extinguishers are numerically rated on the number of square feet of fire they can put out. A 10-B extinguisher can cover 10 square feet of fire.
  • Class C extinguishers are rated for fires involving energized electrical equipment, such as wiring, circuit breakers, machinery, electronics and appliances. This class does not have a numerical rating.


Operation

The first rule in proper fire extinguisher use is making sure your extinguisher is accessible. Beyond that, there is a simple acronym that comes in handy to teach you how to properly use a fire extinguisher: PASS:


P stands for pull the pin.

A stands for aim the nozzle toward the base of the fire.

S stands for squeeze the lever slowly.

S stands for sweep the nozzle from side-to-side, while moving toward the fire.


Maintenance

To properly maintain your fire extinguisher, check the gauge monthly to make sure it is pressurized. The gauge should appear somewhere in the green zone, which signifies it is ready for use. Make sure the pull pin is secured and that there are no cracks, dents or rust spots present on the canister. Replace fire extinguishers that are older than 12 years.

Smoke Alarms
A smoke detector installed on the ceiling at the top of a staircase.

There are two basic types of smoke detectors: ionization and photoelectric. Both types are effective in detecting smoke and fire, but the best smoke alarms feature both technologies. 


Types

  • Ionization smoke alarms are better at detecting small particles that are produced in greater amounts in flaming fires, which quickly consume combustible materials and spread in many directions. 
  • Photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting large particles that are produced in greater amounts in smoldering fires, which may smolder for hours before bursting into flame.


Technology

The inclusion of lithium ion batteries enables smoke detectors to last up to 10 years without needing a battery change. Because of this advancement, these smoke alarm batteries can be sealed and are considered "worry-free." At the end of the 10-year period, simply discard and install a new model for another 10-year period of worry-free monitoring.

 

Placement

Most fire fatalities occur between the hours of 2 a.m. and 6 a.m., when most people are asleep. That’s precisely why it’s so important to have several working smoke alarms in your home. Smoke detectors should be placed in each bedroom, in the kitchen and on every level of your home.

Carbon Monoxide Alarms
An adult reading to a child and a carbon monoxide detector installed nearby.

Carbon monoxide, abbreviated CO, is a toxic, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas that comes from an appliance malfunction, improper ventilation or burning fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal. A furnace crack, dryer vent clog or a blocked chimney can all produce CO. Use carbon monoxide alarms to detect a leak quickly.


Inhaling too much CO will give you flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizzy spells, confusion and irritability. Because these symptoms are similar to influenza, they are sometimes misdiagnosed. As more time passes, the symptoms can worsen to include vomiting, loss of consciousness, brain damage and even death. 


Place a CO detector outside of every bedroom and on every level of your home, including the basement. To avoid inaccurate readings and annoyance alarms, install CO alarms at least 15 feet from fireplaces, stoves and furnaces or according to the manufacturer's guidelines.


Carbon monoxide detectors work by measuring the amount of CO over time. The following limits were created by Underwriters Laboratory, a trusted independent safety certification company. Be sure your CO detectors are UL-approved:

  • 30 ppm (parts per million) for 30 days
  • 150 ppm for 10-50 minutes
  • 70 ppm for 60-240 minutes
  • 400 ppm for 4-15 minutes


If any of these levels are exceeded, the CO detector’s alarm will alert you of the threat. If your CO detector alarm is ever activated, leave your home immediately and call 911.

Fireplace & Smoking Safety
A fireplace with a fireplace screen in a home's living room.

If your home has a wood-burning or gas-burning fireplace, make sure you take the proper precautions.


Have your chimney inspected and, if necessary, swept or cleaned at least once a year, especially if you use your fireplace regularly.


Keep fireplace screens securely in place every time you light a fire. The screen is necessary to keep ash or spewing log fragments from igniting carpet, area rugs or other fabric nearby. 


If any household members or guests choose to smoke, consider making a rule that smoking should only take place outside of the home. Should you choose to smoke indoors, however, you should never smoke in bed, as many fires start when a person falls asleep and the lit cigarette ignites bedding material.