How to Inspect and Maintain your Fire Extingisher
Here we offer some useful tips about annual maintenance, monthly inspections, legal obligations and the safe disposal of old fire extinguishers.
Fire extinguishers do not have an indefinite life, especially on a boat, even if they have never been used.
What can fail or deteriorate:
The contents can lose pressure
The inside and outside of the canisters can corrode
The canister seams can be weakened by continual high pressurisation
Seals can deteriorate
Valves can stick
Fire extinguishers can be knocked and become dented simply through the everyday exposure to the continually moving environment on a vessel.
Annual Fire Extinguisher Service and Maintenance
Fire extinguisher inspection and maintenance should be carried out by a competent person who is a qualified to conduct such maintenance in accordance with British Standard BS 5306 part 3.
Annual inspections (or more frequent for high risk locations or corrosive environments) by a competent person will involve the detailed inspection of every fire extinguisher, the identification of those extinguishers which need repressurising, which require replacement parts, or which have reached the end of their useful lives.
The Requirements for Leisure Vessels
Although there is no specific legal requirement for a leisure yacht to have its fire extinguishers serviced annually, you may find that some insurers look more favourably on owners who fit an appropriate complement of fire fighting equipment on their vessel and have followed a regular service schedule, especially when a claim for fire damage is being considered.
The Requirements for Charter and Commercial Vessels
Charter and commercial working vessels operating under the MCA Codes of Practice are all required to have their fire extinguisher serviced by a competent engineer every 12 months.
The inspection must be dated and the details recorded on a service label attached on the side of the extinguisher.
Each extinguisher will also receive a separate service certificate for the owner or operator’s records.
What you Should Inspect Each Month
It is recommended that a visual check of your fire extinguishers is performed once a month. This takes very little time, can save both money and lives, and is part of the legal requirement on a charter or commercially-operated vessel.
The visual check can be carrier out by the owner or operator and requires no specialist training. Here’s what to look for:
1. Check that your fire extinguishers are correctly mounted on their proper wall hanging brackets, and that access to them is unobstructed. Check that all fire extinguisher brackets are undamaged, and are secure. Check that signage is also unobstructed, so people can easily see where fire extinguishers are located in the event of an emergency. Replace any worn, peeling or damaged signage.
2. Check the pressure gauge (where one is fitted). The gauge needle should be in the green zone. If it is in the red, contact a fire extinguisher service engineer and either have the fire extinguisher repressurised, or replace it with a new fire extinguisher.
3. Check that all security tags are intact, that the safety pin is in place and secured by an anti-tamper seal or an OK indicator. Gently dust the extinguisher top to remove dust from the important valve, gauge and nozzle areas, and invest in a fire extinguisher cover if the area it is kept is particularly dusty, dirty or greasy.
4. Check the fire extinguisher cylinder for any signs of leakage, rust spots or dents. If you find any, replace the fire extinguisher immediately and safely dispose of the old one. If a fire extinguisher is badly damaged, do not move it yourself. Call in a professional fire extinguisher service engineer who will remove it safely.
5. Check the labelling remains clear and sharp to read. Some guides recommend you gently shake small powder extinguishers to prevent the contents from settling into a ‘cake’. In practice, you need to hold the unit upside down next to your ear without shaking so you can hear the loose powder gradually fall. Do not try this with large 6kg or 9kg extinguishers, as they are too heavy.
6. Finally, take a moment to look around the space to see if anything has changed that will affect the safe retrieval or operation of your existing fire extinguisher. Has a new piece of machinery been installed requiring access to a different type of fire extinguisher such as a CO2 model?
How to Dispose of Old Fire Extinguishers Safely
Most important to remember is that a fire extinguisher is usually under pressure and removal of any of the parts can be dangerous without proper training.
Only plain water fire extinguishers can be emptied into drains, whilst dry powder extinguishers need to be discharged into a disposal bag, and the powder sealed and sent to a landfill site.
Small quantities of old fire extinguishers can normally be disposed of at your local council amenity site, whilst larger quantities should be disposed of through specialist fire extinguisher service companies.