Small fires can and will happen. If, like many homeowners, you have a fire extinguisher in your home, it’s important that you know how to use it properly. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is an excellent resource for homeowners, and it offers these guidelines—among others—for the proper use of a fire extinguisher:

  • Know what kind of extinguisher you have: Not all extinguishers are the same, and each contains different chemicals for fighting different kinds of fires.
  • Only attempt to contain small fires: Generally, you should only attempt to use a fire extinguisher if it is contained in a very small area.
  • Be sure the fire’s fumes do not pose a health risk: A fire caused by or containing dangerous chemicals could create fumes that could cause injury or death.
  • Regularly maintain your fire extinguisher: Is it easily accessible? Is the canister at the right pressure? In the event of an emergency, you want the answer to these questions to be: Yes!

It’s important to know when not to use a fire extinguisher. If the fire in your home has reached a point at which it has triggered your home’s smoke detectors, it is likely too large to be contained or extinguished by a consumer-grade fire extinguisher. In this event, you should immediately seek safety outside your home and alert the authorities. Only firefighting professionals have the training, tools and expertise to extinguish such fires. It might be difficult to lose some or all of your personal belongings to a fire in your home, but it’s much better than losing your life trying to fight the flames.