Fire extinguishers are important both in homes and businesses. While you hope you never need one, it’s better to have one that you don’t ever use then need one and not have it. No matter what type of fire extinguisher or where you keep it, you need to perform regular fire extinguisher maintenance in order to make sure it works when you need it.
Types of Fire Extinguishers
There are different types of fire extinguishers depending on the type of fire you are fighting. Here are the major ones:
- Type A – extinguishes fires on solids like paper and wood
- Type B – extinguishes liquid and gas fires
- Type C – Extinguishes electrical fires
- Type D – Extinguishes combustible metals
- Type K – extinguishes oils and fats (common in kitchen fires)
While you may have more than one type of fire extinguisher in your home or business, inspection and maintenance of them remains very similar. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations to ensure that your fire extinguisher stays in tip-top working condition.
Your Monthly Fire Extinguisher Maintenance
You want to perform an inspection and maintenance on your fire extinguishers once per month. All fire extinguishers include an inspection tag from the manufacturer which makes it easy for someone to mark off when they inspect it. Insist that all employees, managers, or family members who are responsible for inspecting and maintaining the fire extinguishers sign off with their initials and the date of inspection.
Before you start looking at anything else, check the expiration date. Most fire extinguishers are good for 5 to 15 years, but if yours has passed its expiration date, don’t question whether it’s safe. Just replace it.
Step 1: Ensure Easy Access
What good is your fire extinguisher if it’s buried in the back of a cabinet or way down the hall, far away from the kitchen, fireplace, or other fire hazards? Make sure that your fire extinguisher is close to the site where it is most likely to be needed. There are a variety of secure fire extinguisher closets and mounts that will allow you to keep a fire extinguisher at the ready in any part of the building.
Step 2: Check for Damage
Because the contents of fire extinguishers are under extreme pressure, any damage to them could result in huge problems if you try to use them. Dents, cracks, or corrosion are the most obvious types of damage you should check for, and if you notice any of these, call the manufacturer about replacing the extinguisher immediately.
Step 3: Check the Gauge
Most fire extinguishers include a round gauge that indicates whether the contents are fully charged and okay to be discharged. The majority of the circle on the gauge is red, with a thin green area and a yellow arrow. If the yellow area does not point inside the green section of the circle, replace the fire extinguisher, as it can mean that the contents are leaking, expired, or otherwise compromised.
Step 4: Check the Safety Pin
Most fire extinguishers include a safety pin that prevents the extinguisher from being discharged before the appropriate time. For extra protection, many have a plastic ring or tie that holds the safety pin in place. If there is no plastic to secure the pin, you can use a zip tie. However, if the pin is missing, the extinguisher may have been used.
Step 5: Check the Hose
In addition to the canister, you need the hose and nozzle to be free of corrosion, cracks, dents, and other damage. The hose should not have any breaks or kinks, and the nozzle should not have any clogs, residue, or foreign objects.
Step 6: Clear Instructions
Most fire extinguishers include a label that spells out the instructions for use, usually as a sticker or printed directly onto the canister. Make sure that the instructions are clean, clear, and easy-to-read. You don’t want a lack of instruction to cause a problem in the middle of a fire.
Step 7: Clean the Extinguisher
It probably won’t take much to keep your fire extinguisher clean – simply wipe it down with a clean cloth and a mild cleaning agent. No bleach or other corrosive cleaners that could damage the metal or make the instructions difficult to read should be used. You just want to remove any dust, oil, grease, or sticky substances that could become an issue in an emergency.
Step 8: Document
Now that you’re fully sure that your extinguisher is ready to use, make sure to sign your initials and the date on the inspection tag. It should be easy for anyone to perform monthly fire extinguisher maintenance.