Fire extinguisher
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to the United States Fire Administration, fires claim approximately 3,500 American lives and injure 20,000 people each year. Among the fatalities are 400 children under the age of nine and 1,200 seniors. Majority of fires happens in homes, with approximately 20,800 cases started in the bedroom, on or around the mattress. Many of the fires, fatalities, and injuries could have been prevented if the homes have basic fire safety measures. [302]Most people have the false notion that fire safety measures are applicable only to commercial establishments so they take for granted fire safety measures for their own homes.

One of the most important home fire safety measures is having fire extinguishers which could stop the spread of fire inside your house. If you don't have fire extinguisher at your home, it is highly recommended that you buy at least one and place it in on highly accessible area at your home but make sure that children could not reach it. Since a fire extinguisher is an indispensable equipment at your home, you should make sure that you check it if it fully functional and in good condition. You should also make sure that you properly dispose used and old fire extinguishers for environmental and safety concerns.

Fire Extinguisher Maintenance

Most fire extinguishers will work for 5 to 15 years according to manufacturers. However, you should not only check the condition of your extinguishers after 5 or 15 years because something may go wrong within this period. New fire extinguishers have pressure gauge which you should check every month. It is important that the extinguisher has enough pressure inside that is powerful enough to discharge its content into the fire. The pressure gauge measures the pressure inside the extinguisher. If the needle is in the green area, the extinguisher is functional, but if it falls anywhere else, the extinguisher is unreliable and should be serviced or replaced. Used fire extinguishers should be serviced or replaced immediately for future use. Do the same if you notice that the hose or nozzle is cracked, ripped or blocked with debris, the handle is broken or wobbly, the locking pin on the handle is unsealed or missing, and the inspection sticker with a record of maintenance and checkups is missing. Take note that when you buy a replacement fire extinguisher, dispose the used one properly. Extremely old extinguishers should also be disposed properly. Proper disposal of fire extinguishers will be discussed in this article.[303]

Reasons for Disposal

It is important to properly dispose fire extinguishers to prevent accidents and health hazards. The contents of an extinguisher could be under pressure and may explode when combined with other chemicals or materials. Explosion can cause injuries to humans. However, the carbon dioxide, sodium bicarbonate, or monoammonium phosphate content of the extinguisher is not hazardous but can irritate sensitive parts of the body like the eyes. Hazardous fire extinguishers are those that are very old, containing the carcinogenic compound carbon tetrachloride. [304]

Proper Disposal

Dry chemical extinguishers (those with sodium bicarbonate or monoammonium phosphate content) can be discharged in soils planted with evergreens that can tolerate acidic fertilizers. Check out the manufacturer's manual on how to properly relieve the pressure on the container (emptying) for disposal. If you don't have the manual, use the PASS technique:[304]

  • Pull the pin to unlock the operating lever and allows you to discharge the content of the extinguisher.

  • Aim low: Point the nozzle or hose at the base of the item.

  • Squeeze the lever above the handle to release the chemicals inside. Releasing the lever will stop the discharge of the extinguishing agent.

  • Sweep from side to side.

After you relieved all the pressure inside the extinguisher, remove the head or top of the metal cylinder to show that it is indeed empty. As a scrap metal, the cylinder can be recycled along with other steels.[304]

Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers can be refilled after use. Look for a local establishment that can recharge it. In case that the extinguisher is defective and cannot be refilled, drill hole to it after releasing the pressure inside and recycle it just like any scrap metal. Don't forget to call fire equipment companies in your area if they are accepting used fire extinguishers for recycling.[304]

Very old fire extinguishers has a different way of disposal because it may contain the carcinogenic compound carbon tetrachloride which can enter your body through inhalation. They can also explode when under pressure and the chemical agents inside react with other chemicals. Consult your local fire department on how can you dispose it without risking your health and safety. You may also ask the help of a nearest hazardous waste facility in your area.[304]