Servicey: Where’s Your Fire Extinguisher?

As the days start to get long and dry, my mind naturally starts to stray towards fire risks. We have serious wildfires periodically, and a multitude of ‘lesser’ fires that can still be pretty devastating when they happen to you, as the uninhabitable house on my road reminds me every time I head to town. I keep fire on my mind, even in the winter months.

External access for fire departments is an important thing to think about when it comes to fire safety and awareness. You should make sure a fire truck can a. find your house and b. actually reach it. In rural areas, that means putting house numbers on the entry to your drive or road with arrows to point the way, and numbering your house clearly so firefighters know they are at the right spot. It also means keeping trees and shrubs clipped away from the house and driveway, making sure there is room for a large vehicle to potentially turn around or back up towards your house. Keep trees close to the house pruned, or, better yet, don’t keep trees close to the house, ok? For that matter, keep the grass short and the shrubs limited in a nice wide range around the house to eliminate fire fuel.

Simple question: Where is your fire extinguisher? I’m often surprised by how many people do not know the answer to this question. Or who know roughly where it is, but not exactly. Or need to go digging for it, because it is not readily accessible. It might be in the back of a crowded closet. It might be mounted on the wall in a weird clip that is difficult to operate, especially when you are under stress and you don’t really have time to fight with the fire extinguisher, you just need it ready to use.

Second simple question: Is your fire extinguisher actually operable? Has it lost its charge? Have you had your fire department test it? Do you know where to go to get it tested and recharged? When was the last time you did it? For that matter, are you 100% sure you know how to operate your fire extinguisher? Are you sure you could do it in a hurry, especially if, say, there was a lot of smoke and you couldn’t see the operating directions clearly? Does everyone in your house know how to use it, especially children?

What is the rating on your fire extinguisher? Can you use it on grease fires in the kitchen? What about electrical fires? Do other people in the house know how the ratings work and understand where they can and cannot use it? These are all questions you should know the answers to, and if you don’t, you should probably fix that, because fires can happen fast and they can turn very ugly. A functional fire extinguisher in knowledgeable hands can avert a serious catastrophe and make the fire department an afterthought, rather than what you are relying on to save you. (But you should still call them anyway, because fires can smoulder and it’s important to make sure they are totally out before declaring things all clear.)

If you are a tenant, there’s a strong probability that your landlord is responsible for the fire extinguisher. If you don’t have one, you should ask for one. If your landlord doesn’t provide it, you may be within your rights to buy and install one and deduct the cost from your rent, providing a receipt to prove it. You should doublecheck this, because the laws do vary, but for the most part, landlords are responsible for providing fire extinguishers and making sure they are operable. If you’re not sure where to look for this information, the fire department is usually a good start (and sometimes provides fire safety equipment for free, to boot).

Do you know where your smoke detectors are, and have you tested them? This, again, may be the responsibility of your landlord. At the very least, there should be one in each bedroom and one in the kitchen. They should include visual as well as auditory alerts. And they need to actually work to help you out in a fire. You might also want to consider carbon monoxide detectors, especially if you have gas appliances, because CO can be a significant health risk and fire alarms won’t alert for it.

What’s your insurance coverage like for fires? Most fire insurance for homeowners just covers the house and major appliances, not the contents. If you’re living in your own home, you should really get contents insurance, because you’d be amazed by how expensive all your crap is when you add it all together. If you’re a tenant, consider renter’s insurance, because, again, your stuff is pretty expensive if you want to replace it all in one go. Landlords are not responsible for the contents of your unit unless there’s a negligence issue. Likewise, the fire department won’t pay for things that get damaged by, say, water from hoses or foam from fire suppressant, because, well, they just prevented your house from burning down, dude, what more do you want.

I get a bit preachy about fire safety because it’s a topic that hits close to the bone for me; I’ve seen the consequences of neglecting it, and I know how costly it can be. And, unfortunately, many people slack on fire safety. It won’t happen to them or they don’t have time or they don’t know the law in re:landlords/tenants or they’re not sure what they need to do or they’ll do it later. A lot of people wait to experience a fire before they start thinking about fire safety, which is not so great. Hopefully you avoid that pitfall, gentle readers, and if you don’t, well, I hope this post lit a fire under your ass.