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One of the most important investments you can make for your family's safety in your home is a fire extinguisher. You hopefully will never have a reason to use your fire extinguisher, but like other investments in safety, not having one can make the difference between life and death, between losing everything and saving most of your belongings.

Fire extinguishers have four different designations: A, B, C, and ABC. These designations refer to the type of fire they will extinguish and where in the home or business the extinguisher will be most appropriately used. A Class A extinguisher will extinguish paper or cardboard fires. A Class B is for cooking fires, oil, or fuel and other highly combustible materials. A Class C extinguishes electrical fires. Another designation also exists, a Class D extinguisher, which is available for chemical labs. Most homes should have ABC extinguishers for best results.

The size of a fire extinguisher is a primary consideration. While it is impossible to predict with certainty who will be the primary user of the extinguisher, pick a size that will be easy to use for the person or people most likely to use it. A five to 10 pound extinguisher is often sufficient for most people's needs.

Fires are not always immediately noticeable to the residents of a home or business. This is why a fully functioning smoke detector or combination carbon monoxide-smoke detector is so important. It will alert you to the presence of a dangerous situation that you may not yet have noticed. You will then have time to place a call to emergency services and act to protect others and yourself. Fire escape ladders can speed your escape from second or third story windows.

If you can safely do so, use the fire extinguisher to put out the fire. A fire extinguisher is not difficult to use, but using it correctly is critical to putting a fire out. The hose should not be pointed at the flames but at the source of the fire, then swept across this area to ensure broad, thorough coverage. Clear directions are printed on each extinguisher, and local fire departments are often happy to walk you through the technique more thoroughly.

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