How to maintain portable fire extinguishers
Portable fire extinguishers are one of the few pieces of firefighting equipment carried aboard fire apparatus that are covered by a separate NFPA standard
In a previous article, we discussed the important role that portable fire extinguishers still fill for fire departments and EMS agencies. Here’s an excerpt:
For starters, portable fire extinguishers are a form of risk management for your fire department. What are you going to do when faced with situations like these?
- Your fire apparatus or ambulance develops its own engine compartment fire.
- You've parked your apparatus over a layer of dead leaves or tall dry grass and now you've got a fire under the apparatus caused by contact with the hot exhaust system.
- You've parked your apparatus downhill from a motor vehicle crash; one of the fuel tanks of the involved vehicles ruptures and flowing fuel passes under the apparatus and ignites.
Of course, you’re going to get the appropriate fire extinguisher from your apparatus, or the nearest apparatus, and you’re going to start bringing those fire situations under control. The only real question is: Will the fire extinguisher you grab be ready for service?
Portable fire extinguishers are one of the few pieces of firefighting equipment carried aboard fire apparatus that are covered by a separate NFPA standard. NFPA 10: Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, outlines the inspection, maintenance and recharging requirements for portable fire extinguishers in Chapter 7. The chapter is subdivided into sections specifically dealing with such items as:
- Extinguisher maintenance
- Record-keeping for conductivity testing of carbon dioxide hose assemblies
- Electronic monitoring systems
It’s vitally important that fire departments have a maintenance program covering all its portable fire extinguishers. The program’s goal should be to ensure that every fire extinguisher in the department’s inventory should always be ready to do its job.
The best way to meet that goal is to ensure all fire extinguishers are inspected, maintained and recharged using the guidance provided in Chapter 7 of NFPA 10. One of the most important parts of Chapter 7 that should be part of a fire department’s program is the following schedule (Fig. 1 below):
Figure 1. Source: Fredriksen Fire Equipment, Wood Dale, Illinois. The timetable lists the required intervals for any inspection, maintenance, recharging, and testing of portable fire extinguishers. The section and paragraph numbers listed in parenthesis refer to NFPA 10.
Firefighters should regularly examine the fire extinghishers carried aboard their assigned fire apparatus as part of either a daily or weekly vehicle check process (NFPA 10, chapter 7.2.2). When they conduct those checks, firefighters should closely examine all fire extinguishers to ensure:
- All extinguishers are located in their proper location and properly secured.
- There are no obstructions to access or visibility.
- Pressure guage readings are in the operable range; for pressure indicators, the indicator is in the proper position.
- Fullness for CO2 extinguishers is determined by weighing or lifting.
Simple stuff for sure, but important nonetheless. After all, the pilot of that last airplane you flew on probably had to make dozens of similarly simple checks as part of their pre-flight preparations, and aren’t you glad they did?
Firefighters should be also skilled and knowledgable about the required inspection procedures and schedule for the fire extinghishers carried aboard their assigned fire apparatus (the 30-day column in Fig. 1 above).
The portable fire extinguishers carried aboard fire apparatus and ambulances live in a much different world than those stored in cabinets along school hallways or in office buildings.
Because of that rough-and-tumble world that makes fire extinguishers more susceptible to mechanical injury or physical damage, they should receive additional inspection monthly. That monthly inspection should address:
- Verification that operating instructions on nameplates are legible and forward-facing.
- Checking for broken safety seals and tampering indicators.
- Examining for obvious physical damage, corrosion, leakage or clogged nozzles.
The personnel in your department tasked with the extinguishers’ yearly inspection and recharging should be trained through a process whereby they’ve demonstrated their knowledge of the chapters in NFPA 10 and its annexes.
Before they are permitted to work on portable fire extinguishers, those trained personnel should be certified through a testing process approved by the authority having jurisdiction.
Your department should also ensure that those certified personnel have the appropriate service manuals from the original manufacturers for fire extinguishers in stock, the correct tools, recharging materials, lubricants and manufacturer’s replacement parts or parts specifically listed for use in your department’s fire extinguishers.
Lastly, the periodic hydrostatic testing of extinguishers, as listed in NFPA 10, chapter 8.3, should only be done by personnel who are properly certified and equipped for that task (See Fig. 1 above). Generally, fire departments outsource this task to a reputable company as a risk and liability protection measure.