Is it trash or treasure? You’re doing some spring cleaning and come across a dusty fire extinguisher. You didn’t even know you had one. Should you throw it out or hang it up? Does it need any service? This guide will help you determine if you should keep your old fire extinguisher or toss that hunk of junk.
The NFPA, or National Fire Protection Association, has guidelines for when to condemn a fire extinguisher. These guidelines identify a few reasons to get rid of your old fire extinguisher. They include:
If your fire extinguisher is from before 1984 – it’s time to dispose of it. The National Fire Protection Association requires that all fire extinguishers from 1984 or older be taken out of use. The manufacture date of your extinguisher can be found on the labels or the bottom of the cylinder.
Your fire extinguisher may not be functional. If the cylinder, lever, or gauges are corroded, deeply scratched, or dented this will reduce the efficiency of your extinguisher. It could also be a sign that the pressure inside of the cylinder is at risk. If the label has been damaged or removed, trash it.
If a fire extinguisher is exposed to 300 degrees Fahrenheit or hotter, it must be serviced and checked for integrity. The extinguisher may be fine, but the heat could damage the chemical extinguishing agent or reduce the integrity of the cylinder. Certified fire extinguisher technicians can use special hydrostatic testing to determine if the extinguisher is safe to use. This means they will empty the extinguishing agent, take the pieces apart, clean them, and use a special water pressure machine to test the cylinder.
Types of Extinguishers
Some portable fire extinguishers are rechargeable or refillable. This means they can be refilled with an extinguishing agent after use and put back into service. Some fire extinguishers are non rechargeable or single-use. They are good for one use. How can you tell the difference? Look at the pressure gauge (top front, usually round gauge). If you see the words “empty” “full” or “discard/replace” you have a non rechargeable fire extinguisher. Other types of fire extinguishers are obsolete. This includes soda acid, chemical foam, and vaporizing liquid. There are more, but these are the most common types.
Call your local Fire Extinguisher company. Some accept used/condemned extinguishers and will take them off of your hands.
Call your local waste disposal authority. Ours allows discharged regular fire extinguisher cylinders to be put in the trash. Others may require you drop it off to a hazardous waste disposal site.
Wait, it’s not trash?!
You examined your long lost (or found) extinguisher. It seems fine. No corrosion, damage, all the parts work, and it’s not too old. Excellent. You might be ready to reinstall the extinguisher or it may need service.
If you’ve already checked the pressure gauge (see above), you’ll know if it needs to be recharged or if it shows charge. Look at the level, hose, gauges, and labels. If all is in order, flip it upside down. Most likely you have a stored-pressure, dry chemical fire extinguisher. You’ll want to know that the extinguishing agent is caked into the bottom. Flipping the extinguisher should help you feel movement inside. If there is no movement, gently tap it on the bottom with a rubber mallet. NOT A HAMMER. If it moves, you should reinstall the extinguisher in your home (see below). If the extinguisher doesn’t meet these criteria, or you are using it in a commercial location, skip ahead to the “Services” section.
You’ll want to reinstall the extinguisher in a central location with a mounting bracket or fire extinguisher cabinet. It should be no higher than five feet from the floor and the bottom should be at least four inches off of the ground. Consider the temperature range listed on the label. Pick a location that is in an acceptable range for best results.
The laws regarding portable fire extinguishers are many and technical. For this reason, the National Fire Protection Association requires that a licensed, fire extinguisher technician perform maintenance on them. A local company can give an estimate for visiting your business and servicing the extinguishers. They can also provide you with valuable information about your extinguisher. The most common services are:
The technician provides a thorough inspection of your extinguisher. They will check to see that it is in good working condition and properly located. If both requirements are met, they will add a certification tag or label that is good for up to one year. This will meet safety requirements for the fire marshal, OSHA, and your insurance company.
Every so often, fire safety code requires fire extinguishers to be taken apart, internally inspected and cleaned, as well as recharged with an extinguishing agent. Then, the technician will inspect it and certify it. You will have labels for both services. The labels indicate when service is due again.
For most business or home extinguishers, you will need to have them pressure tested every twelve years. This can be done when the extinguisher is receiving internal maintenance to save time and money. The extinguisher will be tested using water pressure to ensure the cylinder is stable to contain the extinguishing agent. Again, it will be certified afterwards and have labels for all services rendered.
I hope your extinguisher was rechargeable and in perfect condition. If you do experience a structure fire, keep calm, because your fire safety protection game is strong.