Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are a key component in both home and vehicle emergency kits. Fire extinguishers must be easily accessible and fully charged in order to be effective. You should have multiple fire extinguishers in your home and everyone in the home should know where they are. The fire extinguisher classifications are (printable copy from FEMA):

  • Class A (ordinary combustibles) is effective against fires involving paper, wood, textiles, and plastics. These normally use monoammonium phosphate to smother the fire.
  • Class B (flammable and combustible liquids) is effective against flammable liquid fires such as burning cooking liquids, oil, gasoline, kerosene, or paint. These often use monoammonium phosphate to smother the fire and sodium bicarbonate to induce a chemical reaction to extinguish the fire.
  • Class C (electrical equipment) is effective against fires in “live” electrical equipment. Chemicals used are monoammonium phosphate and sodium bicarbonate due to their nonconductive properties. These extinguishers are normally yellow.
  • Class D (combustible metals) is effective against combustible metals such as aluminum, titanium, zirconium, magnesium, and potassium. Class D fires are not normally found in residential areas.
  • Class K (commercial kitchen) is effective against flammable liquid fires such as cooking oils and fats used for cooking. Class B extinguishers are effective against these fires but this category is for food preparation locations that use large quantities of flammable liquids. These extinguishers are normally silver.

The Class A/B/C fire extinguishers are normally red. Classification ratings (A/B/C/D/K) indicate the type of material that the fire extinguish is designed to extinguish. The number in front of the Classification rating indicates the size of fire that the unit can extinguish. Normally you want a fire extinguisher that is rated for A/B/C fires. When using the fire extinguisher remember PASS:

  • Pull the pin and point the fire extinguisher with the nozzle directed away from you
  • Aim low and point the nozzle at the base of the fire
  • Squeeze the level slowly and evenly
  • Sweep the nozzle from side to side

Should you extinguish the fire or leave immediately? Evaluate the situation before deciding whether attempt to extinguish the fire:

  1. Can I quickly escape if I attempt to extinguish the fire?
  2. Do I have the proper type of fire extinguisher?
  3. Is the fire extinguisher large enough for the fire?
  4. Is the area free from other dangers such as falling debris or other hazardous materials?

If you answered YES to all of the above then attempt to extinguish the fire. If any question was a NO then leave the area immediately!

Not Created Equal

Not all fire extinguishers are created equal. Some are built for one-time use and cannot be tested, rebuilt, or refilled. Fire extinguishers need to be refilled and recharged over time. The fire retardant inside can settle to the bottom of the canister. This compressed retardant may not dispense if the extinguisher is old. Fire extinguishers should be inspected and possibly refilled about every six years. The main components of a typical portable fire extinguisher are:

  • Pin that is removed to activate the extinguisher
  • Handle and trigger to carry the extinguisher and deploy the fire retardant
  • Pressure gauge
  • Hose or nozzle used to aim the retardant
  • Cylinder that holds the extinguishing agent

I found a local company that sells commercial grade fire extinguishers and also services and refills them. A new, high-quality, small, commercial-grade fire extinguisher costs just over $40. A throwaway version costs about $18-$25. My fire extinguisher came with a dated service tag so I know when to have it inspected. A refill and inspection should cost around $16 every six years. These extinguishers are built with an internal aluminum siphon tube whereas the throwaway ones use a plastic tube.


Purchase fire extinguishers that are rated for Class A/B/C fires. This way you fight fires with different materials including vehicle fires. Purchase a fire extinguisher that can be refilled and rebuilt. These fire extinguishers have solid metal fittings and handles whereas the disposable ones use more plastic components.

If you live in the Everett, WA area I purchased my fire extinguishers from AAA of Everett on Broadway. They have new and used fire extinguishers and they can inspect, rebuild, and refill them. Expect to pay a little bit more but you will be getting higher quality products.