BOB/GOOD/GO Bag for the Ultra-Urban Environment – Part 9 – Fire Extinguishers
This might be a bit of a tangent as I am not advocating carrying a fire extinguisher in the BOB/GOOD/GO bag. Much better to get oneself safely out of harm’s way. But I’m such a big proponent of extinguishers being available in all habitable spaces that I’d like to underscore this tangible, insurance policy. And since it is appropriate to put them in your BOV, it does, sort of, make sense to explore the topic here.
I have seen too many unnecessary calamities from fire. A fire bottle is no guarantee that anyone can stop a fire. But, in some situations, a trained person can stop a small fire from becoming a huge conflagration. And in some situations, the fire extinguisher can be used as a tool to help clear a path for a person to escape.
Elsewhere you can learn all the fire fighting and fire extinguisher details; Class A/B/C/D/K, PASS method, etcetera. I am not trying to give a mini firefighter course. I am trying to detailing some aspects I think important for the urban dweller.
In the home and car, you need at least one ABC extinguisher. In the home you have all of the basic, three classes of flammable materials. If you have lots of electronics, you may want to also have a CO2 extinguisher(s) to cut down on the mess of cleanup. In the car, if an ABC agent is used it is relatively easy to clean using low pressure water and steam, especially under the hood
Check the statistics yourself; fires tend to start where fuels are stored or used. Kitchens, garages, and basements are often where fires start – the places where appliances are used to heat or burn fuels like ovens, stoves, water heaters, furnaces.. The second group on the list where fires start are where consumer electrical or electronic equipment are used. That would be the bedrooms, living room, or den. It used to be that places where smokers would sleep – bedrooms or living room loungers – would also be high on the list. But households without smokers have greatly decreased incidents of fires starting in other than kitchens, garages, or basements. If you have enough budget, it makes sense to place extinguishers near each of those potential hot spots.
Sometimes in urban environments, there will be a bedroom or back room that doesn’t have a second escape route. These could be located high in a condo building, buried in a townhouse basement basement, or even in stand-alone houses’ utility rooms converted into “in-law” apartments. Consideration should be given to putting fire bottles in these rooms in addition to those positioned next to the potential hot spots.
How big (or how small) a bottle is appropriate? Fire extinguishers used in homes are sized by the weight of the extinguishing agent inside the bottle. For planning purposes, the filled extinguisher can have a total weight of up to twice the weight of the extinguishing agent. I believe the bottle should be as large as the normal occupants can lift and carry one handed. For homes with children old enough to be allowed to stay home unsupervised (even for one hour) that is a ten pound extinguisher. They weigh more than ten pounds, but I’ve had eight year olds lift and use ten pounders on fire. As long as you can lift, carry, and use it, more is better.
In a car, the space is even more limited. The extinguisher should be mounted within reach of the driver. That translates to a five or even a 2.5 pound, ABC bottle. The smaller size is offset by the ease of fast egress compared to climbing stairs or even an escape ladder in a multi-storied dwelling.
There are two ways to mount a fire bottle, hanger or bracket. Hangers come in two types, pin or fingers, and the hanger must be of the type the bottle will accept. Hangers are used to mount a bottle on a stationary wall and where the bottle won’t be hit by people, pets, or other moving items – bottles can be easily knocked off hangers. Brackets start with fingers like a hanger, and then add one or two latching straps around the middle of the bottle to prevent the bottle from accidentally being knocked off the bracket. Brackets are required in any moving environment like a boat or car. I highly recommend using only brackets to mount fire bottles anywhere.
Always buy extinguishers with a metal – not plastic – neck and valve. Even if a plastic neck/valve extinguisher says it is refillable, most refilling places will not refill it because they break so easily. Most “cheap” extinguishers have plastic necks/valves. This is what most big box stores sell.
My experience has been to find the local, sole-owner shop who is certified to refill all the different types of bottles you are considering, and work with him on price. Sometimes, I have been able to have my order tacked onto a larger, commercial order for the best deal. You may get a slight price break from a mail order or big box place, but you will only get service from a place that can refill them. Plus, saving that last dollar is not worth as much as having a professional who specializes in fire equipment helping you. Especially when it comes to life and limb gear.
I highly recommend you expend a CO2 bottle in the back yard while having all (young and old) try it. Once they experience the PASS method they are likely to actually use it during the adrenalin rush of a real situation. Besides, CO2’s are really cheap to refill, and leave no mess to clean up.
As part of a multi-bottle order, you might get the shop owner to throw in a free, training refill.
Do treat all pressurized bottles with care. If the valve gets knocked off, it becomes a powerful missile. Always store bottles either in their bracket (hanger), or lying on their side so they can’t roll. Most modern fire bottles have a ring or flat plate welded to the bottom to facilitate standing upright. I just don’t trust them. They are still too easy to knock over. I’ve seen what happens when the nozzle comes off.
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