DennisBeaverApril 07, 2012 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver

When Costco, Sam’s Club and a few other retailers began to carry fire extinguishers, sales across America skyrocketed. In a minute, we’ll give you some tips on what to look for, but first, an answer to a question sent to us from “Scott,” who retired from the Fresno County Fire Department and now works as a home inspector in California’s High Sierra.

“Your recent articles on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms raise an additional area concerning home fire safety, which is extremely important and which most people know very little about:  the importance for home sellers and buyers to understand the Department of Real Estate disclosure statement which concerns location and number of smoke/carbon monoxide alarms on the property.”

“You and the Law” appreciates comments and suggestions from readers such as Scott. For the answers, we turned to Timothy Ieronimo, fire chief in Hanford.

California laws are strict for a very good reason

“Dennis,” Chief Ieronimo began, “Let me give you a recent statistic that firefighters just hate: two-thirds of home fire deaths occur where there was no working smoke alarm, often in homes which had at least one alarm. In the majority of cases, the battery was missing or dead, and in some instances, the alarm had been in place years beyond its life expectancy. Occasionally, alarms which would have worked fine simply failed to respond to smoke because they were dirty, filled with spider webs and dust. That is a real concern in agricultural areas.

“The death rate per 100 reported fires is twice as high in homes without a working smoke alarm as it was in homes with this protection. Hardwired smoke alarms are more reliable than those powered only by batteries. This is why newly constructed homes, or those which have had significant remodeling, must have alarms which are both hardwired and have a battery backup,” he points out.

“Buyers and sellers need to understand the requirements of both California law and local city and county ordinances concerning the number and location of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. County and city fire departments are a good source of current requirements. It is important to not just rely on the real estate disclosure statement, but to visually verify the location and type of alarms listed.

“As a general guide, homes which were built before 1992 and have not undergone major renovations costing over $1,000 (and requiring a permit) can have battery-powered alarms. Others must be hardwired and have a battery backup.

“But regardless of when the house was built, you need to have one alarm per sleeping area as well as in all nearby hallways. In addition, you need at least one per story, and do not forget basements,” Chief Ieronimo adds.

“Finally, while fines can result from not following the law, firefighters care about saving lives, not collecting fines. I’ve been in this field over 32 years, and there is something you never get used to and can’t forget, no matter how hard you try: It is the reaction of family members when we tell them that a loved one didn’t make it out safely.”

Learning the ABCs of fire extinguishers

“Of course the flip side of fire safety is having the correct type of fire extinguisher and knowing how to use it,” Debbie Hanson, director of external afffairs at First Alert, the nation’s largest manufacturer of home fire safety equipment, tells You and the Law. “And there can be some confusion,” she adds.

“Extinguishers are classified by fire type: A B or C ratings define the kinds of fires they can put out. Class A is used on ordinary combustibles, such as wood, cloth, paper and some plastics. Class B is for fires involving liquids, grease, gasoline and kerosene. Class C is for energized electrical equipment. Home extinguishers often have an A/B rating, and may say ‘kitchen fire extinguisher.’ Today, you can buy a very adequate one for under $25, and many have a useful life of 10 years.

“It is important to have one in rooms where fires are most likely to be and on every level of your home,” she stressed, adding, “and there is one word which will help you use the extinguisher correctly: PASS.

l Pull the safety pin from the handle.

l Aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire, not at the flames.

l Squeeze the handle slowly to release the agent.

l Sweep from side to side from the fire until it is out or the extinguisher is empty.

Don’t test the extinguisher

“As long as the gauge is showing green, never pull the lever — even briefly — to ‘test’ the extinguisher, as this will cause it to lose pressure,” Hanson warns.

“Finally,” the First Alert’s spokesperson concludes, “Always call 911, even if you think the fire has been put out. So often, it isn’t all the way out.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.