Fire extinguishers are a crucial part of any building or vehicle’s safety. Fires often occur, and when they do, you want to be ready for them. A good number of fire safety laws dictate that you install and maintain fire extinguishers in good working condition. As such, it is essential to know whether fire extinguishers expire, and what you can do about that.
So, do fire extinguishers expire? Yes, they do. But that depends on the type. Fire extinguishers that comprise of pressurized water or carbon dioxide can last at least five years. Dry chemical extinguishers, on the other hand, will last at least 12 years. However, their lifespan can be significantly increased with proper maintenance.
What Causes Fire Extinguishers to Expire
You might wonder, what does it mean for a fire extinguisher to expire? In ideal circumstances, neither the cylinder nor the contents ‘go bad,’ so to speak. A fire cylinder has to remain effective and ready for action throughout its lifetime. If anything happens to it that affects its effectiveness, it will be deemed expired.
The expiry of fire extinguishers is brought about by these factors in general.
- Loss of pressure – For pressurized containers with water or carbon dioxide, loss of pressure would negatively impact their effectiveness in case of a fire.
- Obsolescence – As fire safety standards change over time, they can render some types of extinguishers obsolete. As at the time of writing, some types of obsolete extinguishers include soda acid types, chemical foam, those with copper or brass shells among others.
- Lack of regular maintenance – To ensure readiness, you should regularly inspect extinguishers. A missing Last Inspection tag is a clear warning sign, so is an outdated one. Moreover, extinguishers manufactured by companies that have gone out of business are deemed obsolete and should be replaced.
- Compromised cylinder – If the fire extinguisher’s canister or cylinder is compromised in any way that renders it inoperable, it becomes ineffective and hence expired.
The lifespan of Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers can last for decades if you maintain them properly. The default lifespan varies with the type of extinguisher. Here are the different types available and their expected lifespan:
- Pressurized water/Carbon dioxide extinguishers – These will last, on the minimum, five years. You should carry out hydrostatic tests on the cylinders every 12 years to determine their physical integrity. If they pass, refill and reuse until testing the next due date.
- Wet chemical extinguishers – These comprise of a potassium compound, stored and expelled under pressure. They last for at least five years but are reusable if they pass the 12-year hydrostatic tests.
- Dry chemical extinguishers – These can last 12 years on the minimum. They are also subject to a hydrostatic test every 12 years to determine cylinder integrity. Like the previous two types, so long as the cylinder passes the hydrostatic tests, you can recharge and reuse.
- Stored pressure/disposable extinguishers – These are non-rechargeable and should be replaced every 12 years if they are not used. In the case of partial usage, they should be replaced with new ones.
Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers
It is now clear just how essential maintenance of fire extinguishers is to ensure a longer lifespan. Maintenance, in this case, consists of two things: when and how it is done. Here are useful insights on how often you should inspect them, and how you should do it.
Maintenance Schedule for Fire Extinguishers.
Covers how often you should inspect the extinguishers for issues, as well as the type of maintenance required.
For pressurized cylinders containing water, carbon dioxide or wet chemical, you should maintain the following schedule:
- Conduct a monthly check of all fire extinguishers in your premises. You can do this on your own or assign the task to someone else. Be sure to document every inspection appropriately.
- A representative from the manufacturer or fire safety company should conduct an annual inspection. This inspection should be reflected on the inspection tag attached with date information, name of inspector, and signature declaring that the extinguisher is in good working condition.
- Hydrostatic tests for pressurized cylinders every 12 years. The manufacturer should assist with this exercise. The tests involve filling the cylinder to very high pressure — usually 500psi — and checking for leaks and other flaws.
- In case of a fire, make sure to check and certify all fire safety equipment, regardless of whether you used them or not.
Maintenance Routine of Fire Extinguishers.
Covers the steps taken during monthly checks to ensure the extinguishers are in perfect working condition. The rest of the inspections should be carried out by qualified personnel from the fire safety company.
You can think of the routine as a checklist consisting of the following.
- Check accessibility: Can you easily reach the cylinder in case of an emergency? In the case of high-risk areas such as kitchens, make sure there is one within easy reach. That is especially true if there are any changes in the building layout that might cause obstruction.
- Conduct a visual inspection for physical damage: Inspect the cylinder for signs of denting or rust. Moreover, check the nozzles and hoses for obstructions. Ensure tamper seals are not broken.
- Check pressure. Most modern cylinders have a pressure gauge. Check the pressure gauge and ensure the needle is well within the green zone for optimum pressure. If a pressure gauge is not present, you can check the weight against that indicated on the body.
- Check the manufacturing date and last inspection date: Pay attention to this point, especially if you are new on the premises. You will find the cylinder’s manufacturing date or date of the last commissioning stamped on the body or a tag around the nozzle. Check this to ensure it is within its useful lifetime.
- Clean the equipment: If there is any grime, grease or dust, clean it by gently wiping with a soft cloth. In the case of oil and grease, you can use cold water and detergent but do not dip the cylinder or canister inside.
- Contact the company representatives: If you come across any sign of rust, dents, or physical damage, call the fire safety technicians at once and have them resolve the matter. The same applies to when the pressure falls below the green line. In that case, have it refilled or replaced. If the equipment has outlived its lifetime or has reached the date of technical inspection, notify the company. One such company that sells on Amazon will even install, for an extra charge, your extinguisher.
When to Refill, And When to Dispose
Fire extinguishers can lose pressure over time through natural leakage. You can also discharge them accidentally.
Many cylinders have a pressure gauge calibrated with colors. If the needle is well within the green zone, you are good to go. If not, check for leakages and recharge, if necessary. If your cylinder does not have a gauge, you can heft or weigh it to determine its fullness capacity.
You can reuse the cylinder if it passes the hydrostatic test, unless the manufacturer decommissions it. However, if you detect any signs of denting, leakage or rust, return it to the fire safety company or take it to a steel recycling plant. DO NOT dispose of it with the trash as the cylinder will still be pressurized.
Fire extinguishers expire when they become ineffective or inoperable. With proper maintenance, you can significantly improve their lifespan from a few years to decades. There is also the option of refilling, if necessary. The best piece of advice you can live by — as far as the expiry of fire extinguishers is concerned — is to keep monitoring their condition. You should also perform regular maintenance checks to ensure they are always ready for immediate use in case of an emergency. Be sure to take note of all that, and all will be well.