A similar incident happened while a fire department employee was making a routine inspection at a car wash. At this location, a fire extinguisher was observed to be setting in an improvised enclosure. As the fire extinguisher was being lifted out of the enclosure it exploded, instantly killing the fire department employee. It was determined that the shell of the extinguisher failed because of heavy corrosion – a danger in any pressurized vessel (Yes, including those shaving cream cans).
These are examples of the deadly extinguishers that can kill you:
As we know, a portable fire extinguisher is an important first line of defense and has been shown over and over again to save lives and property damage by extinguishing a fire in its insipid stage by putting it out or allowing time to exit the building. However, as shown above, portable fire extinguishers must not be allowed to exhibit signs of corrosion or catastrophic failure.
At least monthly:
- Check to ensure fire extinguishers are on their proper fire extinguisher floor stands or wall hanging brackets. Do not place extinguishers more than 5 feet above the floor.
- Check to determine that they are located in conspicuous and readily available locations immediately available for use, and not obstructed or obscured from view.
- Check for signs of rust and corrosion.
- Check for visible dents or cracks in the extinguisher body.
- Check to ensure the pressure dial reads in the green or “charged” area. It should also be clear and readable.
- Check that the pull pin is securely fastened within the handle and held in place by the tamper seal.
- Check for modifications that might reduce the extinguisher’s functionality.
- Check to ensure that the fire extinguisher has a label and that it is legible.
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) recommends that extinguishers should be tested every five years or twelve years, depending on the type. The standard method of testing, “hydrostatic,” is conducted underwater where the cylinders are subjected to pressures that exceed their ratings. Vessels that fail the test are condemned and destroyed, while the rest are reassembled and put back into service.
Do fire extinguishers service life’s expire?
Fire extinguishers expire and they do this for a few different reasons. One common way is that, over time, the seal on the neck will weaken and allow compressed gas to escape. Extinguishers that have lost much of their pressure will not operate. Pressure within an extinguisher can be conveniently checked through a pressure gauge. “ABC” class extinguishers (ammonium phosphate) have the tendency to fail due to solidification of the chemical in the canister base. Homeowners and inspectors can delay this process by periodically shaking the extinguisher. Expensive extinguishers that have expired, especially those designed for commercial use, can be refilled and resealed by companies who specialize in this service. Inexpensive models are disposable.
Unfortunately, an expiration date cannot be fully trusted and there is no foolproof way to know if an extinguisher is no longer functional. Due to the extremely destructive potential of fires and the relatively low cost of extinguishers, it is advisable to replace or recharge questionable extinguishers.
In summary, extinguishers are classified based on their chemical ingredients, all of which have their own strengths and limitations. It is important to know what type of extinguisher combats what type of fire. Fire extinguishers are critical indoor components that must be maintained and inspected regularly.
Fire Extinguishers: Refurbishment verses Replacement
Refurbishing fire extinguishers is a long process, requiring inspections, removal of your fire extinguishers to a factory, replacement parts, pressure testing, refilling, repressurizing, and finally the return of your extinguishers back to your premises. These days, most servicing companies just service exchange the unit for a ready-tested model although this can leave you with a different, sometimes inferior, model to the original. Service exchange generally costs half the price of a new extinguisher from a service company. Many businesses have discovered it is far more time and cost effective to simply replace their fire extinguishers with new ones purchased at the huge discounts available online, and recycle their old extinguishers.
Safe Disposal of Old Fire Extinguishers
Most important to remember is that a fire extinguisher is usually under pressure and removal of any of the parts can be dangerous without proper training. People have been killed trying to do this in the past. Old but still safe fire extinguishers are ideal for staff fire training sessions, but, in reality, only plain water and CO2 are safe to use at most premises. Only plain water fire extinguishing agents can be emptied into drains, while powder needs to be disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. All business owners have legal duty of care to properly dispose of waste, so only employ a company that has a license to carry controlled waste.
Recycling Fire Extinguishers
Some fire extinguisher maintenance companies are in the refurbishing, refilling, and/or recycling business. Normally, the fire extinguisher body will be fully inspected and pressure tested, and if sound, will be reused. If not, the canister is either pierced or cut in half to prevent further use.