Fire extinguishers are essential life-saving equipment for commercial buildings and homes. They need routine maintenance to keep them operable and ready for use in a fire breakout.
Unfortunately, many people assume they will never need to use their fire extinguisher and thus tend to forget about them until the need arises, at which point it may be too late. According to the National Fire Protection Association, 83% of Americans don’t inspect their fire extinguishers.
It’s inadvisable to wait for an emergency to occur only to realize you’ve been keeping an uncharged or faulty fire extinguisher that won’t help you.
This post will address everything you need to know about fire extinguisher inspection, including testing and maintenance protocols that will leave your fire extinguisher in peak performance shape.
The process of fire extinguisher inspection breaks down into:
- Visual inspection
- Maintenance inspection
- Hydrostatic testing or internal maintenance inspection
Each level of inspection follows a different procedure and requires different levels of qualification and inspection frequency.
But before we answer the question, “how often should you inspect your fire extinguisher,” let’s first address the importance of a fire extinguisher inspection.
According to 2022 house fire statistics, a small flame takes only 30 seconds to turn into a major blaze. It takes a well-maintained and inspected fire extinguisher to mitigate the effects caused by fire breakouts in a home or office.
Proper fire extinguisher inspection keeps it ready for use in an emergency. Besides failing to work during an emergency, a poorly maintained fire extinguisher can be more dangerous than if you had none.
Visual inspection is the basic and most straightforward fire extinguisher inspection anyone can do. Usually, a visual inspection is done once a month to ascertain the following:
- The extinguisher is in its designated location and is accessible during an emergency
- The fire extinguisher is fully charged and operable
- There is proper signage indicating the location of the extinguisher
Use the following guidelines to perform a monthly visual fire extinguisher inspection:
- Check the position of the pressure gauge and ensure the indicator is within an operable range
- Toggle the push-to-test pressure indicators for a non-chargeable extinguisher to ensure it’s working well
- Weigh the cylinder to ensure it’s full
- Ensure the pull-pin seal is intact
- Verify the last professional inspection date
- Check for any physical damages such as dents or corrosion
- If you own a wheeled extinguisher, check to ensure the wheels, tires, nozzle, and hose are working perfectly
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) recommends visual extinguisher inspection during installation, followed by a routine monthly inspection.
However, you may need to inspect it more frequently if it is installed in a damp location prone to physical damage like rust or corrosion.
Remember to record all the maintenance inspections on a tag or stick a label on the extinguisher. In your record, indicate the month, year, and name of the person carrying out the inspection.
Fire extinguisher maintenance and servicing inspection are more in-depth than a visual inspection. It’s performed by a certified technician or a professional fire protection company. The technician must be familiar with the NFPA 10 standards and maintenance procedures in the manufacturer’s service manual.
During the inspection, a thorough examination and repairs are done and focus on:
- Extinguisher’s mechanical parts
- Expelling means
- Extinguishing agent
- Physical condition
These, including internal part examination and maintenance, are performed using specialized tools and following the extinguisher service manual.
During maintenance, the technician checks and corrects any potentially hazardous circumstances. This is to ensure maximum compliance with the NFPA requirements.
A maintenance inspection is done once every year. The fire extinguisher must pass the maintenance inspection. If it fails the annual inspection, it must be repaired or replaced before verification using an inspection tag from the inspection date.
Take advantage of the fire extinguisher inspection period to have all your fire-fighting equipment inspected and serviced. These should include fire sprinklers and the emergency fire sprinkler shut-off tool—the Shutgun. Always keep all your firefighting arsenal ready for an emergency.
Remember to keep a record of every inspection. Have a tag or a label on the cylinder indicating the month, year, and name of the technician or fire-fighting agency conducting the inspection.
Like the maintenance inspection, a certified technician or a fire protection company does hydrostatic testing and internal maintenance inspection.
It’s a detailed process involving discharging the fire extinguisher and examining the internal and external components before recharging it to ensure optimum performance. The process is conducted between one and six years, depending on the type of fire extinguisher.
For instance, a dry chemical fire extinguisher requires internal maintenance inspection every six years.
The hydrostatic testing follows the below process performed by a certified technician:
- Detach all the components down to just the shell and the hose.
- Fill the extinguisher with water at a specific pressure per the manual guidelines.
- Dry the extinguisher to remove any water before reassembling and charging.
- The cylinder is only certified to have passed the test if there are no distortions, leakages, or permanent movement of couplings. Otherwise, you must replace the extinguisher if it fails the test.
Hydrostatic testing frequency varies across different types of extinguishers. For instance, a dry chemical fire extinguisher requires hydrostatic testing every 12 years. Carbon dioxide, pressurized water, and wet chemical fire extinguishers are tested every five years.
Remember to keep a record of the inspection and hydrostatic testing for reference on the next procedure.
Note: Fire extinguisher hydrostatic testing is dangerous and can cause casualties when performed inappropriately. Ensure the technician is trained and certified and possesses the right tools for the job.
Proper inspection, testing, and maintenance of a fire extinguisher is a legal requirement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in the US. It ensures your business and employees are protected against potential fire hazards.
And it doesn’t even cost you much. All you need is to spare a few minutes monthly for the basic visual inspection and schedule the maintenance and internal inspections once every year or a few years as your fire extinguisher type dictates.
However, it’s noteworthy that fire extinguishers are only suitable for managing small fire breakouts. Otherwise, to mitigate property damage during massive fire breakouts, you will need the services of a fire prevention company.
Do not forget to keep other essential fire-fighting equipment like sprinklers and sprinkler shut-off tools at home or in your commercial building. Statistics show that a Shutgun, the leading sprinkler shut-off tool on the market today, can help you save thousands of dollars in water damage caused by flooding after a fire sprinkler head is activated accidentally.