People keep fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors in their homes as an added layer of safety, but are they keeping them well maintained?


According to Lt. Karl Odenthal, of the Aiken Department of Public Safety, it's recommended to keep at least one fire extinguisher in the home, especially in the kitchen area. If you have a fireplace that you use, it's a good idea to keep one there, too.


Choosing an extinguisher

Not all fire extinguishers are the same, though. When purchasing an extinguisher, keep in mind the environment you'll be storing it in.


“If you have something in the kitchen and do a lot of deep frying, you're going to want a chemical agent, because something that is water-based is going to be more likely to cause the fire to spread,” Odenthal said. “The idea is to smother the grease, suffocate it, so it can't get any oxygen.”


Chemical-based extinguishers are not a good idea for some office environments or places where there are lots of electronics, according to Odenthal.


“Although a chemical agent can extinguish the fire, you wouldn't want to necessarily use that one because the particulate stuff from the chemicals will get into the computers, and that can do more damage than the fire can do. It'll actually destroy your computers.”


Some smaller extinguishers are one-time use, while other more heavy-duty ones can be refilled and reused, according to Odenthal. Pictures on the extinguisher indicate the types of fires it can be used on, whether it's electrical, trash or grease fires.


Extinguishers need to be inspected once a year, he said, which is required for schools and businesses. If you keep an extinguisher in your home, Odenthal recommends shaking it once a year.


“If it's a dry powder, what'll happen is that powder will cake up on the bottom,” he said. “So if you shake it up a little bit, it'll keep it loose so that when you do need to use it, you won't get just compressed air coming out.”


'PASS'

Odenthal said there are a couple of things to keep in mind before deciding to deploy a fire extinguisher. First, look at your conditions.


“Can a fire extinguisher actually put (the fire) out, or is this gonna be too big for what you're trying to do?” he said. “You want to use it if it's a smaller fire. If it's something bigger, it's time to get out and call 911.”


Also, be aware of your approach to a fire.


“You want to have an exit strategy, if what you're trying to do doesn't work and it continues to spread,” Odenthal said. “You don't want to find yourself behind a wall of flames that's preventing you from getting out.”


Approach the fire from the windward side, so the contents of the extinguisher don't blow back at you. Odenthal said there is an acronym that demonstrates the proper operation of an extinguisher: PASS.


First, “Pull” the pin, which is typically a metal hook or plastic strip locking the levers of the extinguisher. Next, “Aim” the nozzle at the base of whatever is burning. Then, “Squeeze” the handles of the extinguisher together to activate the spray. Finally, “Sweep” the nozzle back and forth across the fire.


Sound the alarm

When it comes to smoke alarms, Odenthal said it's best to have one in the living room, one in each sleeping room and one in each hallway.


“They're your early warning device. It's not gonna put the fire out for you, but it'll give you a little heads up.”


Smoke alarms are available for as little as $13.


Odenthal said Aiken Public Safety used to have a grant that would provide residents with free smoke detectors and installation.


“There were reports from across the country,” Odenthal said. “You'd go to a house where you gave somebody a smoke detector and it'd still be in the box. You'd still see the charred box sitting there. They had it and never put it up.”


The department no longer has that grant, but Odenthal said an officer can come by and assist you with any problems with your smoke detector.


“We'd rather be on the safe side of prevention than trying to put a fire out,” he said.


Most devices have a life span of eight to 10 years, he said. If you've moved into a home and are unsure of the age, it's best to replace the devices.


Odenthal said officers recommend replacing the batteries in your detectors each year at daylight saving time.


“That's when you know you have fresh batteries going into the winter months,” he said. If a device doesn't work, even with new batteries, it's best to replace it.


Carbon monoxide alarm, too

Carbon monoxide is a clear, odorless gas that is toxic to humans and animals. In houses, it commonly comes from hot water heaters, furnaces, gas logs or gas stoves.


“You get sick, and you don't even know it,” Odenthal said.


Carbon monoxide detectors alert residents of any presence of the gas in their homes. Odenthal said it's recommended to have one detector on each level of the home. Since the furnace has the most potential to release carbon monoxide, he said it's best to keep one detector close to it.


It's important to take care of the device and to replace it if it is malfunctioning, Odenthal said. Officers have been called to some homes where a carbon monoxide alarm went off, however, after investigating and checking the air, realized there was nothing wrong. The detector was malfunctioning and in need of replacement.


Also, place the detector close to the floor, so the alarm will sound before the gas reaches normal breathing space, Odenthal said.


For more information, visit the National Fire Protection Association website at www.nfpa.org.