Match the fire extinguisher to the job; check that it works

By: Jenna Nielsen, Journal Staff Writer
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Auburn’s Jennifer Johnson had no choice but to watch her welding studio burn after a spark ignited a blaze in the shop behind her home. After trying to put out the fire herself with two fire extinguishers that wouldn’t work and a garden hose that would barely reach, Johnson braced for the worst. “I was panicked at that point,” Johnson said. “And the flames were coming out of a metal cabinet filled with supplies and delicate tools. I thought all was lost and ran for the phone.” Johnson called 911. “With fire trucks on the way and the flames not four feet from many bottles of acetylene, argon and oxygen, I ran to get a hose knowing that it wouldn’t quite reach,” she said. “Luckily, I made it to the studio door and was able to spray water across the shop to the cabinet. The smoke from the burning leather, paint and melting plastic was horribly consuming.” The fire department arrived to helped Johnson put out the blaze. After roughly $3,000 worth of damage, Johnson began thinking about how lucky she was that she didn’t lose more. And also about what went wrong with her faulty fire extinguishers. “Most of the time I keep them up to date, and this one I didn’t have checked,” Johnson said. “It is something you don’t think about regularly because you don’t have emergencies like that regularly.” Johnson, who will be participating in November’s Autumn Art Studios Tour, said she will be having a “No More Fires Sale” during the event. “I just think this is a good time to remind everyone to get their equipment checked,” she said. “As much as you may not think about it, this is something very important.” Auburn Fire Engineer John Rogers routinely gives extinguisher training throughout the area. He suggests keeping an extinguisher in the kitchen and garage area of the home that is easily accessible. “You should check it every month to make sure that no parts are missing and that the gauges are in the green,” Rogers said. “You also want to turn it upside down to get the powder to go from the bottom to the top — to break it up.” Extinguishers should also be checked annually by a licensed fire extinguisher company, he said. “You also might want to have some practice or training,” Rogers said. “It’s good to have extinguishers but it is also good to know how to use them.” Extinguishers should also contain what’s called an A, B or C class rating, Rogers said. Class A extinguishers are for ordinary combustible materials such as paper, wood and most plastics, he said. The numerical rating on these types of extinguishers indicates the amount of fire it can extinguish. Class B extinguishers are for flammable or combustible liquids such as gasoline, kerosene, grease and oil. The numerical rating for class B extinguishers indicates the approximate number of square feet of fire it can extinguish. Class C fires involve electrical equipment, such as appliances, wiring, circuit breakers and outlets. Water should never be used to extinguish class C fires and extinguishers do not have a numerical rating. The C classification means the extinguishing agent is non-conductive. Johnson, who plans to brush up on her extinguisher expertise, said for now she is thankful she wasn’t hurt or didn’t lose more. “I think this is something everyone should make a priority,” Johnson said. “You just never know when an emergency is going to happen in your home.” Comment on this story at ---------- Fire officials nationwide are using today’s time change to remind residents to check batteries in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Serving as a reminder during time changes since 1987, the Change Your Clock Change Your Battery program now incorporates more than 6,100 fire departments across the U.S. Today, Nov. 2, Energizer and the International Association of Fire Chiefs encourages families to use Daylight Saving Time as a reminder to change the batteries in their smoke detectors when changing their clocks back to Standard Time. “Hundreds of fatalities occur every year when individuals neglect to ensure their smoke detectors have fresh batteries,” Larry J. Grorud, president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs said in a news release. “The habit of changing batteries during this campaign is a simple step that can help save the lives of so many families each year. The International Association of Fire Chiefs reports that while 96 percent of American homes have at least one smoke alarm, 19 percent of those detectors are not working, mostly due to missing or dead batteries. On average, home fires kill 540 children ages 14 and under each year, officials say. — Jenna Nielsen