PrimeTime: Using a Fire Extinguisher

April 12, 2001 -- If you keep a fire extinguisher in your home, chances are you don't know how to use it.

If so, when you try to use the fire extinguisher, you're likely to make the fire worse.

"If you don't know what you're doing, you're dealing with death," says Chief John Evans of the Bergen County New Jersey Fire Department. "You are better off not even having it if you don't know how to use it."

Evans says smoke detectors, sprinklers and fire extinguishers can offer people a false sense of security. A PrimeTime test of five volunteers who have fire extinguishers where they live confirmed his point. The volunteers, told only that they were participating in a fire safety test, faced real fires — but when presented with a variety of fire extinguishers some didn't know which one to choose or how to use it.

Extinguisher Safety

• Keep the fire extinguisher where you can reach it. Most people keep fire extinguishers in the kitchen since it's a likely place for a fire to occur. But don't keep it too close to the stove, because as Evans explains, "You want to move away from the danger to get the extinguisher, instead of going into the danger." Also, keep the extinguisher near an exit.

• Know the different types of extinguishers and use the proper one: A is for paper and wood fires, B is for flammable liquids and C is for electrical fires. Experts recommend getting a fire extinguisher labelled 2A:10BC, which is a bigger size fire extinguisher for all types of fire.

• Read the instructions on the extinguisher when you buy it so that you need not take valuable time to read them in case of an emergency.

• Practice using it. Rehearsing and preparing can save lives.

In Case of a Fire

• Notify the fire department immediately. "Get some help on the way," suggests Evans, even in a small fire, so that experts can respond.

• Get people out of the house. "Have a plan in place. Know two ways out of every room. And rehearse it," says Evans.

• Shut off the heat source. Putting the lid back on a pan, for example, and shutting off the stove, can prevent an entire house from burning down.

• Remember to PASS! P - Pull the safety pin. A - Aim at the base of the fire. S - Squeeze the trigger. S - Sweep from side to side.