Fire extinguishers are essential safety devices that can help you put out small fires and prevent them from spreading. However, not all fire extinguishers are suitable for use in freezing temperatures, and some may even become damaged or ineffective if exposed to cold weather. In this article, we will explain how freezing temperatures can affect different types of fire extinguishers, and how to store and maintain them properly for optimal performance and safety.
- Fire extinguishers should be stored at temperatures between -40°F and 120°F to ensure proper functioning.
- Water, foam, and wet chemical fire extinguishers can freeze in temperatures below 40°F, while dry chemical, carbon dioxide, halon, and halotron fire extinguishers are more resistant to freezing.
- Fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly, maintained annually, and tested periodically by qualified professionals.
- Fire extinguishers should be mounted on the wall with appropriate brackets, in visible and accessible locations, near potential fire hazards.
How Freezing Temperatures Affect Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers are classified by the type of fire they can extinguish, as well as the type of agent they contain. The agent is the material inside the extinguisher that gets applied to the fire, such as water, foam, powder, gas, or liquid. Depending on the type of agent, fire extinguishers may have different reactions to freezing temperatures.
Water Fire Extinguishers
Water fire extinguishers are designed for Class A fires, which involve ordinary combustible materials such as wood, paper, cloth, rubber, and plastic. Water fire extinguishers work by cooling down the burning material and removing the heat source.
However, water fire extinguishers are not suitable for use in freezing temperatures, as the water inside can freeze and render the extinguisher unusable. Frozen water can also cause cracks in the hoses and valves of the extinguisher, leading to leaks and malfunctions. Some water fire extinguishers contain antifreeze additives to prevent freezing, but they still need to be stored at temperatures above 40°F⁵.
Foam Fire Extinguishers
Foam fire extinguishers are rated for Class A and Class B fires, which involve flammable liquids such as gasoline, oil, paint, solvents, and alcohol. Foam fire extinguishers work by creating a blanket of foam over the burning liquid, smothering the fire and preventing reignition.
However, foam fire extinguishers are also not suitable for use in freezing temperatures, as the foam solution inside can freeze and clog the nozzle of the extinguisher. Some foam fire extinguishers contain glycol additives to lower the freezing point of the solution, but they still need to be stored at temperatures above 40°F⁵.
Wet Chemical Fire Extinguishers
Wet chemical fire extinguishers are designed for Class K fires, which involve cooking oils and fats used in kitchens and restaurants. Wet chemical fire extinguishers work by spraying a fine mist of potassium acetate or potassium citrate solution over the burning oil or fat, creating a layer of soap that seals off the oxygen supply and cools down the temperature.
However, wet chemical fire extinguishers are also not suitable for use in freezing temperatures, as the wet chemical solution inside can freeze and damage the internal components of the extinguisher. Wet chemical fire extinguishers need to be stored at temperatures between 40°F and 120°F⁵.
Dry Chemical Fire Extinguishers
Dry chemical fire extinguishers are the most common type of fire extinguishers found in homes and workplaces. They are rated for Class A, Class B, Class C (electrical) fires or a combination of these classes. Dry chemical fire extinguishers work by spraying a fine powder of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), potassium bicarbonate (Purple-K), ammonium phosphate (ABC), or sodium chloride (Class D) over the fire, creating a barrier that interrupts the chemical reaction of combustion.
Dry chemical fire extinguishers are more resistant to freezing temperatures than water, foam, or wet chemical fire extinguishers. They can be stored at temperatures between -40°F and 120°F⁵. However, some manufacturers recommend shaking dry chemical fire extinguishers once a month to prevent the powder from settling or packing inside the cylinder⁶.
Carbon Dioxide Fire Extinguishers
Carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishers are rated for Class B and Class C fires. CO2 fire extinguishers work by displacing oxygen from the fire area with carbon dioxide gas. CO2 fire extinguishers also have a cooling effect, as the gas expands rapidly and lowers the temperature.
CO2 fire extinguishers are also resistant to freezing temperatures, as they do not contain any liquid or solid agent that can freeze. They can be stored at temperatures between -40°F and 120°F⁵. However, CO2 fire extinguishers have some drawbacks, such as limited range, limited duration, and potential hazards to humans and animals in enclosed spaces.
Halon Fire Extinguishers
Halon fire extinguishers are rated for Class B and Class C fires. Halon fire extinguishers work by releasing halon gas, which is a type of halogenated hydrocarbon that interferes with the chemical reaction of combustion.
Halon fire extinguishers are also resistant to freezing temperatures, as they do not contain any liquid or solid agent that can freeze. They can be stored at temperatures between -40°F and 120°F⁵. However, halon fire extinguishers are no longer manufactured or imported in the United States, as halon is an ozone-depleting substance that contributes to global warming. Existing halon fire extinguishers can still be used, but they must be recycled or disposed of properly when they are empty or expired.
Halotron Fire Extinguishers
Halotron fire extinguishers are rated for Class A, Class B, and Class C fires. Halotron fire extinguishers work by releasing halotron gas, which is a type of halocarbon that interferes with the chemical reaction of combustion.
Halotron fire extinguishers are also resistant to freezing temperatures, as they do not contain any liquid or solid agent that can freeze. They can be stored at temperatures between -40°F and 120°F⁵. Halotron fire extinguishers are considered to be environmentally friendly alternatives to halon fire extinguishers, as halotron has a lower ozone depletion potential and global warming potential than halon.
How to Store and Maintain Fire Extinguishers Properly
To ensure that your fire extinguishers are ready to use in case of an emergency, you need to store and maintain them properly. Here are some tips on how to do so:
Store Fire Extinguishers in the Right Locations
Fire extinguisher location is critical to ensuring that an extinguisher is always easily accessible in the event of a fire. You should place fire extinguishers in the following locations:
- Near potential fire hazards, such as kitchens, garages, workshops, furnaces, boilers, electrical panels, etc.
- Along escape routes and exits, such as hallways, stairways, doors, etc.
- In areas where fires are likely to spread quickly, such as storage rooms, closets, attics, basements, etc.
- In areas where fires are likely to cause significant damage or injury, such as bedrooms, living rooms, offices, etc…
You should also follow these guidelines when choosing fire extinguisher locations:
- Mount fire extinguishers on the wall with appropriate brackets, in a horizontal position and with the nozzle pointing down.
- The bottom of the extinguisher should be at least 4 inches from the floor and the top should not be more than 5 feet from the floor for more universal accessibility⁵.
- The extinguisher should be visible and not obstructed by furniture, curtains, plants, or other objects.
- If the extinguisher is not easily visible, you should install a sign or other means of identification above it.
- The extinguisher should be within 75 feet of travel distance from any point in the protected area⁵.
Store Fire Extinguishers in the Proper Position and Temperature
Most modern fire extinguishers are rated to perform properly at a wide temperature range. However, you should still avoid storing them in extremely hot or cold conditions that may affect their functionality or lifespan. You should store fire extinguishers in the following ways:
- Keep them away from direct sunlight, heat sources, or open flames that may cause them to overheat or explode.
- Keep them away from moisture sources or corrosive substances that may cause them to rust or leak.
- Keep them away from vibrations or impacts that may damage their internal components or cause accidental discharge.
- Keep them indoors if possible or in a weatherproof cabinet if outdoors.
- Store them at temperatures between -40°F and 120°F for most types of fire extinguishers⁵, or between 40°F and 120°F for water, foam, and wet chemical fire extinguishers⁵.
Maintain Accessibility and Visibility of Fire Extinguishers
Fire extinguishers should always be ready for use in case of an emergency. You should maintain the accessibility and visibility of your fire extinguishers by doing the following:
- Do not lock or seal your fire extinguishers in cabinets or boxes that may prevent you from reaching them quickly.
- Do not use your fire extinguishers for any other purpose than fighting fires.
- Do not use your fire extinguishers for any other purpose than fighting fires. Do not use them as doorstops, hammers, or toys.
- Do not remove or tamper with the safety pin, seal, or label of your fire extinguishers, as they may indicate whether the extinguisher is ready to use or not.
- Do not paint or cover your fire extinguishers with any material that may obscure their color, label, or instructions.
- Do not place anything in front of or on top of your fire extinguishers that may block your access or view of them.
Inspect Fire Extinguishers Monthly
Fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly to ensure that they are in good working condition and have not been damaged, discharged, or expired. You should inspect your fire extinguishers by following these steps:
- Check the pressure gauge or indicator on the extinguisher. It should be in the green zone, indicating that the extinguisher is fully charged and ready to use. If it is in the red zone, indicating that the extinguisher is undercharged or overcharged, you should contact a qualified service technician to recharge or replace the extinguisher.
- Check the hose and nozzle of the extinguisher. They should be free of cracks, leaks, clogs, or dirt that may impair the flow of the agent. If you find any defects, you should contact a qualified service technician to repair or replace the extinguisher.
- Check the safety pin and seal of the extinguisher. They should be intact and unbroken, indicating that the extinguisher has not been used or tampered with. If they are missing or damaged, you should contact a qualified service technician to replace them.
- Check the label and instructions of the extinguisher. They should be legible and clear, indicating the type, rating, and usage of the extinguisher. If they are faded, torn, or missing, you should contact a qualified service technician to replace them.
- Check the date of manufacture or expiration of the extinguisher. Most fire extinguishers have a lifespan of 5 to 15 years, depending on the type and quality of the extinguisher. If your extinguisher is past its expiration date, you should contact a qualified service technician to dispose of it properly and replace it with a new one.
Maintain Fire Extinguishers Annually
Fire extinguishers should be maintained annually by a qualified service technician who can perform a thorough examination and testing of the extinguisher. The technician will check for any signs of corrosion, damage, leakage, or malfunctioning of the extinguisher and its components. The technician will also recharge or refill the extinguisher if needed and replace any parts that are worn out or defective. The technician will also affix a tag or label on the extinguisher indicating the date and result of the maintenance.
Test Fire Extinguishers Periodically
Fire extinguishers should be tested periodically by a qualified service technician who can perform a hydrostatic test on the extinguisher. A hydrostatic test is a method of testing the integrity and strength of the cylinder by filling it with water under high pressure and measuring any changes in volume or pressure. A hydrostatic test can detect any cracks, leaks, or weaknesses in the cylinder that may cause it to burst or fail during use. The frequency of testing depends on the type and age of the extinguisher but generally ranges from 5 to 12 years. The technician will also affix a tag or label on the extinguisher indicating the date and result of the test.
Fire extinguishers are vital safety devices that can save lives and property in case of a fire. However, they need to be stored and maintained properly to ensure their optimal performance and safety. You should store your fire extinguishers in suitable locations and temperatures, maintain their accessibility and visibility, inspect them monthly, maintain them annually, and test them periodically by qualified professionals. You should also be aware of how freezing temperatures can affect different types of fire extinguishers, and choose the ones that are suitable for your environment and needs.