Why Must Fire Extinguishers be Routinely Maintained?


The Importance of Fire Extinguisher Maintenance

More than just metal canisters, fire extinguishers are the first line of defense in a fire emergency. Their proper function can mean the difference between minor damage and a raging inferno. Yet, their importance is often underestimated and only realized when a fire emergency occurs.

Imagine this: You're at a gas station, refueling your car, when a small fire erupts. You rush to the nearest extinguisher and try to use it to put out the fire – but it's unresponsive. You grab another, then another, but none of them function. Panic mounts as the fire grows, precious seconds ticking by. 

Would a single working extinguisher have made a difference?

This isn't just a hypothetical scenario. In August 2021, at a Pakistani fuel station, I, as part of the investigation team, witnessed the devastating consequences of neglected fire extinguishers. 

These weren't faulty devices; they were victims of improper inspection and maintenance. Placed outdoors in the humid monsoon season and not inspected since the last year, the powder within became clumped and useless. 

Clumps of Dry Chemical Powder

Had they been inspected and maintained at regular intervals, the outcome could have been drastically different.

Neglecting fire extinguishers is like sending an untrained soldier into battle. You're gambling with safety, potentially placing yourself and others at risk. 

Conversely, regular maintenance offers these key advantages:

  • Ensures readiness: The primary purpose of routine inspection and maintenance for fire extinguishers is to give maximum assurance that a fire extinguisher will operate effectively and safely. It guarantees the extinguisher is charged and in good working order when needed.
  • Detects damages: It identifies leaks, corrosion, or other issues that could impair its function.
  • Prevents tampering: Regular checks make it harder for someone to tamper or remove the extinguisher from its designated area.
  • Identifies hydro testing/replacement needs: It ensures the extinguisher receives necessary pressure tests and is replaced before its expiration date.
  • Compliance with fire safety regulations: It maintains compliance with local fire safety codes and regulations.
  • Saves money: Early detection of problems prevents costly repairs or replacements in the future.
  • Provides peace of mind: Knowing your extinguishers are ready gives you valuable peace of mind in case of an emergency.
  • Identifies fire risks: During inspections, the inspectors can also identify potential fire hazards in the vicinity.

Maintaining the Fire Extinguishers

Different fire extinguisher types require specific inspection and maintenance procedures. For instance, a cartridge-operated Dry Chemical Powder (DCP) extinguisher needs its cartridge weighed, while a pressurized DCP extinguisher relies on gauge readings for status checks. Therefore, always follow the manufacturer's guidelines for your specific extinguisher model.

However, the following are some general practices that can help prolong the lifespan and effectiveness of common fire extinguishers:

Monthly Self-Checks

  • Accessibility: Can you grab it quickly and easily? Make sure nothing blocks its path.
  • Physical Damage: Look for dents, cracks, or rust. A damaged body might not hold up under pressure.
  • Pressure: Check the pressure gauge if present. The needle should be in the green zone, not lagging in the red.
  • Pin & Seal: Ensure the pin is secure and the tamper seal unbroken. Tampering could leave you with a useless weapon.
  • Hose & Nozzle: Inspect the hose for kinks or wear and the nozzle for blockages. They're the delivery system for your firefighting agent.
  • Powder Condition: Gently tip the extinguisher upside down to loosen any caked-up powder. It needs to flow freely.
  • Label Readability: Is the label clear and facing outwards? You might need instructions in the heat of the moment.

If anything seems amiss, don't hesitate. Call a licensed fire extinguisher servicing company. They'll diagnose the problem and make the necessary repairs or replacements.

Annual Inspection

Once a year, bring in trained professionals for a thorough inspection and service. They'll go beyond your self-checks and perform crucial additional tasks:

  • Recharge & Repair: They'll ensure your extinguisher is fully charged with the proper firefighting agent and fix any internal issues, including malfunctioning hoses, handles, or pressure gauges.
  • Hydrostatic Testing: They'll determine if your extinguisher needs a pressure test based on safety standards and legal requirements. If necessary, they'll perform a hydrostatic test to confirm the cylinder's pressure capacity is safe for continued use.
  • Maintenance Tag: As a final step, they'll leave a tag on each extinguisher documenting the date of service and indicating its readiness.

I hope now you have a better understanding of why fire extinguishers should be routinely maintained. Remember, these are not "set and forget" devices. To guarantee their reliable performance in an emergency, regular inspections and servicing are essential. 

Don't wait for a fire to discover your extinguisher is out of service. Proactive care is the key to ensuring their readiness when you need them most.

Jawad Chand

Jawad Chand is an occupational health & safety practitioner and trainer with extensive experience in oil & gas safety management, process safety, pharmaceuticals hazard control, and health & safety management systems. He is a highly qualified professional with the most prestigious degrees in Business Administration, Chemical Engineering, and Occupational Health & Safety.

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