Most people understand the importance of fire safety. So much so, that you’ll find a fire extinguisher in about 75% of American homes today. But, fewer homes have fire blankets. In fact, you might be scratching your head, wondering what exactly a fire blanket is, what it does, and whether you actually need one.
LifeSavvy spoke with Firefighter Collin Warner of the Weesaw Township Fire & Rescue Department in Michigan to get the scoop on fire blankets.
According to Warner, both fire extinguishers and fire blankets are very important pieces of equipment used in a variety of situations and careers. But, is a fire blanket worth having around at home?
Fire blankets are commonly used by scientists in labs and by wildland firefighters. According to Warner, they can be used to extinguish small lab fires by limiting oxygen to the flames, causing the fires to burn out.
Wildland firefighters can also use fire blankets to protect themselves.
“Wildland firefighters will dig a small hole in the ground just deep enough for them to crouch down in, then cover themselves with a fire blanket to protect themselves in forest fires or large grass fires,” said Warner.
Fire blankets are made up of two distinct layers. The inner layer is made of a flame-retardant film, while the external layer is made of woven glass fiber fabric.
As Warner said, fire blankets work by suffocating flames. When a fire is robbed of oxygen, it eventually goes out, making a fire blanket a great solution for someone trying to protect themselves from getting burned or someone trying to smother a small burning area.
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Fire blankets can come in handy for smothering small fires in the home or outside.
Again, most Americans have a fire extinguisher in their homes. Extinguishers work by cooling burning heat with a chemical agent, and smothering the flames to deprive them of oxygen so the fire doesn’t continue to burn.
According to Warner, fire extinguishers come in far more variations and can be found in five major classes—A, B, C, D, and K. Each class is good for extinguishing a specific type of fire.
“A would be common combustibles like paper and cardboard, B is used for oil fires, C for electric fires, D for metal fires, and K is for kitchen fires and cooking oil fires,” said Warner.
Warner suggested that extinguishers are better suited for the average household. Fire blankets aren’t as versatile and they’re mostly used in labs and to help those dealing with forest fires. However, that doesn’t mean fire extinguishers are perfect. Warner stated that extinguishers expire after twelve years, and they have limited use.
“Once the container is empty, you’d better hope the fire is out because you won’t get anything else out of it,” said Warner.
So, while having a fire extinguisher on hand is better than not having one, make sure you’re checking the expiration date, and make sure you know how to use it properly so you’re focusing directly on dousing the flames and not wasting the internal contents.
Thankfully, today’s fire extinguishers are quite easy to use and designed to be accessed in a hurry. You simply need to pull the pin to break the tamper seal, aim the nozzle, and squeeze. Work in sweeping motions to make sure you’re covering as much surface area as possible so the flames are doused and won’t have a chance to spread. Stay calm and collected, and you’re less likely to waste the contents by spraying them everywhere.
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So, do you actually need a fire blanket in your home? According to the Red Cross, most house fires begin in the kitchen. A fire blanket could be useful for smothering rising flames on a gas stove. But, a fire extinguisher is just as effective (if not more so), and can cover a larger area if the flames begin to spread.
Warner believes a fire extinguisher is the better option for the average household. However, it’s not going to hurt to have a fire blanket on hand.
“I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it,” said Warner.
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As long as you educate yourself on how to use a fire extinguisher and make sure you replace it as necessary, it should be a staple piece in your home safety plan. But, it’s never a bad idea to be extra safe, and because fire blankets are so easily accessible, it doesn’t hurt to have one or two on hand as a backup, or for other purposes like camping.
Whether you decide to use a fire extinguisher, a fire blanket, or both, make sure you practice using them a few times (or at least mimicking the action with the extinguisher). You don’t want your first experience with putting out a fire to also be the first time you’re using either piece of equipment.