Fire Extinguisher Maintenance 101
Do you own or run a business? If you don’t, you’d be surprised at how many inspections and laws govern businesses. There are federal laws, state laws, and local ordinances. It can be difficult to keep up. One regulation that all business owners must meet is the fire code. This means having at least one 2A:10B:C rated fire extinguisher in your business – more depending upon the size of your business and the level of hazard.
Is this enough? No. The National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA has a slew of requirements. As a business owner you don’t need to know them all. Your local, state-licensed fire equipment dealer and certified technicians will take care of your fire equipment and code requirements. The three basic requirements you will pay for as a business owner or operator are: annual certification, 6-year internal maintenance, and 12-year hydrostatic testing.
Every year you will need a certified fire extinguisher technician to inspect and certify your fire extinguishers. This service seems silly, but it might be one of the most important services you have performed on your fire extinguishers. What does the inspection process look like?
- Checking the manufacturer’s date and service stickers to ensure no further service is needed.
- Checking the pressure gauge.
- Checking the hose.
- Looking for corrosion, pitting, or dents on the cylinder.
Then, after passing the inspection – your extinguisher receives a new certification tag. These can be stickers or hanging tags. They show the type of extinguisher, serial number, service provided, and the month and year of service. These inspections are good for one year.
One of the main reasons your extinguisher is inspected annually is for insurance. The fire equipment dealer is verifying that your extinguisher will work in case of a fire. Corrosion, depressurization, or age can prevent a portable fire extinguisher from properly expelling the suppressing agent.
6 Year Internal Maintenance
You’ve guessed it, sometimes fire extinguisher service is more expensive. Every six years, the NFPA requires portable fire extinguishers to be internally maintenanced. As you’ve guessed – the annual certification is an external inspection. So, what are you paying for?
- Depressurizing the extinguisher.
- Removing, cleaning, and refilling the monoammonium phosphate used to extinguish
- Inspecting the handle, hose, valve, valve stem, O-ring, and threads.
- Replacing and repairing any degraded parts.
- Repressurizing the extinguisher.
This service goes with the external inspection. It is more costly because of the amount of labor involved and the replacement of parts. How can you tell if your extinguishers need this service before you call your fire extinguisher company? You can look at the manufacturer’s date of the cylinder (usually on the front label or on the bottom of the cylinder). If your fire extinguisher was manufactured in 2017, you’ll need internal maintenance in 2023. There may be other stickers from fire dealers showing this service. If this is the case, you will see a service collar on the “neck” of your cylinder. It will list the month and year of the last internal maintenance as well as the company information
This service is also called a recharge. This means the extinguisher has had the same service, but it was needed because the extinguisher was discharged. Any time an extinguisher is discharged – by accident or to put out a fire, it will require internal maintenance.
12 Year Hydrostatic Testing
The mother of all maintenance is hydrostatic testing. Most business fire extinguishers will need this type of maintenance every 12 years, as required by the NFPA. You may have guessed the extinguishers requiring this type of maintenance will also receive an external inspection and internal maintenance. You are right. Strong work. Just like a 6-year maintenance, you can check the manufacturer’s date or service collar to see when your extinguisher is due.
What is hydrostatic testing?
The extinguisher is taken apart, cleaned, filled with water, and placed in a pressurized water testing chamber. Then the extinguisher is pressurized beyond its service pressure and watched. The cylinder must keep its structural integrity to pass the test.
Hydrostatic testing prevents damaged or weakened fire extinguishers from being present in the field. When the cylinder of a fire extinguisher is weakened or damaged, a variety of terrible things can happen.
In this scenario your fire extinguisher slowly depressurizes. This means that the nitrogen waiting to expel your extinguishing agent slowly leaks out. The gauge will read red instead of green. It’s not a good scenario because in the case of a fire, nothing will be left to push out the extinguishing agent and your extinguisher will be defunct.
In this scenario your fire extinguisher becomes over-pressurized, and the metal cylinder explodes. Rubber tires are pressurized to around 40-60 pounds per square inch. Yet, they can do surprising amounts of damage to people or property when they explode. Imagine what a metal cylinder pressurized to 190 psi could do to your, your property, or loved ones.
Overall, the maintenance a fire extinguisher at your business receives is necessary and legally required. But it doesn’t hurt to know what you’re paying for and why. If you have further questions, reach out to a locally licensed fire equipment dealer. All Florida Fire Equipment is always known for its excellence. Don’t forget to check their ratings and prices before scheduling your fire extinguisher’s annual maintenance!