Like other four-wheelers, I keep a fire extinguisher in the vehicle. Don’t think about it much, as it sits there year-round, attached to the transmission hump. One day I had to take it in for a minor repair, and it dawned on me that we tend to take those things for granted. So I figured we could use a refresher on our fire extinguishers, including how to care for and use them. Call it Fire Extinguisher 101.
I won’t discuss the various types of extinguishers out there. We touched on that in “Pack A Fire Extinguisher So You Don’t Get Burned”. Instead, I want to review some maintenance tips, then discuss the proper use of a fire extinguisher.
It’s easy to ignore a fire extinguisher. You mount it one day, and then sort of forget about it. You see it every day as you hop into your vehicle. In effect, it becomes a part of the scenery. While the tank and chemical don’t deteriorate over time, experts recommend that you inspect your extinguisher at least annually, and get it repaired or recharged as needed. (Due to the nature of off-road driving, I suggest you inspect it every couple months or so.)
Start by looking at the gauge. Is the needle still in the safe zone? If not, the extinguisher must be recharged or replaced. Go online or check the Yellow Pages for a facility. Keep in mind that you may have purchased a disposable unit. Those can’t be recharged. (This is the one I use.)
- The hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped, or blocked with debris
- The locking pin on the handle is missing or unsealed
- The handle is wobbly or broken
- The inspection sticker or hang tag is missing
The chemical can settle over time, so some people suggest shaking the tank lightly every six months. In addition, make sure to recharge or replace your extinguisher if it’s been used at all. The nozzle can get plugged after a simple discharge, which some people do to test the unit. Plus, you’ve used some of the chemical, so the extinguisher’s effectiveness is diminished.
Extinguishers last years, according to the manufacturers, but without a label, how can you determine when you purchased it? Make a point to replace or service your extinguisher(s) every three to five years. That way you can be assured of a working unit.
Many fire extinguishers come with a paper hang tag. That can rip off easily from all the jostling around in your vehicle. If you take your extinguisher in for servicing, ask the technician to apply a maintenance label. That will stick forever.
How to properly use a fire extinguisher?
That may seem obvious, like riding a bicycle. Yet in an emergency, we tend to panic and forget even the simplest instructions. Think PASS. It stands for
Pull the pin
Aim at the base of the fire
Squeeze the lever slowly
Sweep from side to side
This is a good time to discuss fire safety. While the western states are particularly prone to fires, due to all the dry brush in certain parts, everyone must take seriously the threat of a fire. Whenever you burn outside or otherwise use a heat source, make sure you control the scene and have a proper fire suppression system in place.
Don’t walk away from the fire pit until you’re absolutely certain it won’t re-start and spread. How to do that? The best way is to douse it with water. I mean flood it. The ashes should be floating in a pool of water. Use a shovel or steel rake to stir up the slurp, making sure all the hot coals are soaked.
If you must use sand or dirt, apply it lightly, and work it into the ashes with the shovel or rake. Don’t merely dump a pile on the hot coals. That may trap the heat, and keep the spot dangerously hot. You started that fire, so you have a responsibility to make sure it’s out.
Like a first aid kit or a cell phone, a fire extinguisher is one of those things you must have in an emergency. Inspect it regularly, and it will be ready when you need it. Don’t overlook this important component.