Fire Extinguisher Inspection 101

By: Contributors  | 
A woman looks at the fire extinguisher expiration date at home.
Having a fire extinguisher handy is only part of fire safety — ensuring it's not expired and is in good working order is important too. ronstik / Shutterstock

Portable fire extinguishers are a great safety tool to keep around in case of a fire. But outfitting your home or workspace with fire extinguishers is only half the battle. To keep yourself safe, regular fire extinguisher inspection is essential.

The good news is that you don't need a Master's Degree in fire safety to properly inspect and diagnose fire extinguisher issues. All it takes is a modest understanding of these life-saving devices to perform thorough and effective inspections.


Understanding Different Types of Fire Extinguishers

A crucial aspect of fire extinguisher inspection is understanding the the various types available. Each is designed to handle different kinds of fire scenarios, and their inspection processes vary slightly too [source: NFPA]. Here's a brief look at the most common types:

Water Extinguishers (Class A)

This type is ideal for Class A fires involving ordinary combustibles like wood, paper, and textiles. Water extinguishers are designed to cool the burning material. When inspecting this type, you should also be on the lookout for rust and corrosion, and ensure that the nozzle is clear of any blockages.


Foam Extinguishers (Classes A & B)

Foam extinguishers can take on Class A and B fires, which includes flammable liquids in addition to the combustibles mentioned above. They smother the fire with foam, forming a barrier between the fuel and the air. When inspecting this type, ensure that the locking pin is intact, the hose is clear of cracks, and the pressure gauge is in the operable range.

Dry Powder Extinguishers (Classes A, B, & C)

This type is incredibly versatile, capable of extinguishing class A and B fires, in addition to fires involving flammable gases like propane and butane (Class C). Inspecting this type involves shaking them occasionally to prevent the powder from settling.

CO2 Extinguishers (Class B & Electrical Fires)

Ideal for offices and workshops, a carbon dioxide extinguisher is designed to displace oxygen by smothering the fire without leaving a residue. They don't have a pressure gauge, and must be weighed to ensure fullness.

Wet Chemical Extinguishers (Class F)

Wet chemical extinguishers are ideal for fires that involve cooking oils and fats in the kitchen. Inspection of this type involves regularly checking the pressure gauge and assessing the structural integrity of the hose.


Frequency of Inspection

Best practices dictate that a fire extinguisher should be inspected by a professional at least once per calendar year. However, routine monthly fire extinguisher inspections should be conducted as well.

If done properly, a monthly fire extinguisher inspection can catch issues early and esnure that extinguishers remain in working order between professional inspections.


Step-By-Step Inspection Guide.

According to federal safety guidelines, all fire extinguishers, including CO2 extinguishers, need to be visually inspected every 30 days [source: Westbrook]. Here's how to inspect your CO2 fire extinguisher:

  1. Locate your extinguisher: This seems obvious, but you need to know where the fire extinguishers around your home or office are located. Make sure they're in an accessible place, where you can get to them if there's a fire emergency.
  2. Visual inspection: Once located, begin with a general examination of the extinguisher. Check for signs of wear, damage, or corrosion.
  3. Pressure gauge check: Confirm that the needle is in the operable range (usually indicated by a green zone). For extinguishers without gauges, like carbon dioxide extinguishers, weigh them to ensure that they meet the specified weight.
  4. Check the plastic seal: All fire extinguishers should have a seal holding a safety pin in place. Report any extinguishers with missing or broken seals to your local fire department.
  5. Check the pin, nozzle and nameplate: Everything should look brand new on a fire extinguisher. Check the pin, nozzle and nameplate for any damage or signs of tampering.
  6. Documentation: Log every inspection, noting the date, inspector's name, and any findings or maintenance actions taken.


Documentation and Compliance

Effective fire extinguisher inspection isn't just about the physical check of the units, it also involves meticulous documentation and adherence to compliance standards. This documentation is not only a legal requirement in many areas but also a critical aspect of fire safety management [source: OSHA].

Maintaining a detailed inspection log is essential. These logs should include the date of inspection, the condition of the extinguiser, any maintenance performed, and the name of the inspector. This can be done using the unit's inspection tag in addition to a long-form logbook that is easy to access and written legibly.


The Vital Role of Fire Extinguisher Inspections

Whether you're testing the reliability of the portable fire extinguishers in your home, or a safety officer that's systematically working your way through the fire extinguisher cabinets of a high-rise office building, you can take pride in knowing that you're doing everything that you can to ensure the safety of those around you.

Monthly inspections, when paired with professional annual inspections, are your first defense against a faulty extinguisher and the danger that that entails. So be proactive, follow the steps above, and ensure that you're fire extinguishers are in optimal condition, ready to protect in the event of a fire. Remember, a well-maintained fire extinguisher is a vital tool in preserving safety and preventing disaster.