Fire extinguishers are essential safety devices that can help you prevent or control small fires in your home, workplace, or vehicle. However, fire extinguishers are only effective if they are stored properly and maintained regularly. Improper storage can reduce the performance, reliability, and lifespan of your fire extinguisher, and even pose a safety hazard.
In this article, we will explain how to store fire extinguishers correctly, following the guidelines from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the manufacturers. We will also cover the inspection, testing, and maintenance procedures that you need to perform to ensure your fire extinguisher is ready to use in case of an emergency.
- Fire extinguishers should be stored upright in a visible and accessible location, preferably in above-freezing temperatures.
- Fire extinguishers should be inspected monthly, maintained annually, and tested every few years by qualified personnel.
- Fire extinguishers should be replaced or recharged after use or when they show signs of damage, corrosion, leakage, or low pressure.
How to Choose the Right Location for Fire Extinguisher Storage
The first step to store fire extinguishers properly is to choose the right location for them. According to NFPA 10, fire extinguishers should be mounted, located, and identified so that they are readily accessible to employees without subjecting them to possible injury. Here are some factors to consider when selecting a location for your fire extinguisher:
- Fire hazards: Fire extinguishers should be placed near the areas where fires are most likely to occur, such as kitchens, garages, workshops, or electrical panels. However, they should not be too close to the potential fire sources that they might become inaccessible or damaged by the heat or flames. NFPA 10 recommends a minimum distance of 10 feet from cooking appliances for Class K fire extinguishers (for cooking media), and a minimum distance of 50 feet from flammable liquid storage areas for Class B fire extinguishers (for flammable liquids).
- Travel distance: Fire extinguishers should be distributed throughout the premises so that the maximum travel distance to reach one is not more than 75 feet for Class A fire extinguishers (for ordinary combustibles), 50 feet for Class B fire extinguishers (for flammable liquids), and 75 feet for Class C fire extinguishers (for energized electrical equipment). For Class D fire extinguishers (for combustible metals), the maximum travel distance is 75 feet for light hazard occupancies and 25 feet for extra hazard occupancies. For Class K fire extinguishers (for cooking media), the maximum travel distance is 30 feet.
- Floor area: Fire extinguishers should also be provided according to the floor area that they can cover. For Class A fire extinguishers (for ordinary combustibles), the maximum floor area per unit of A rating is 3,000 square feet for light hazard occupancies, 1,500 square feet for ordinary hazard occupancies, and 1,000 square feet for extra hazard occupancies. For example, a 2-A rated fire extinguisher can cover up to 6,000 square feet in a light hazard occupancy, but only up to 2,000 square feet in an extra hazard occupancy. For Class B fire extinguishers (for flammable liquids), there is no floor area limitation, but the minimum required rating depends on the size of the fire hazard. For Class C fire extinguishers (for energized electrical equipment), the floor area limitation is the same as for Class A fire extinguishers. For Class D fire extinguishers (for combustible metals), there is no floor area limitation, but the minimum required rating depends on the type and size of the combustible metal. For Class K fire extinguishers (for cooking media), there is no floor area limitation, but at least one 2-A:K rated fire extinguisher should be provided for each kitchen.
The following table summarizes the location requirements for different types of fire extinguishers:
|Class of Fire||Description||Minimum Distance from Fire Hazard||Maximum Travel Distance||Maximum Floor Area per Unit of Rating|
|A||Fires in ordinary combustible materials, such as wood, cloth, paper, rubber, and many plastics.||N/A||75 feet||3,000 ft2 for light hazard; 1,500 ft2 for ordinary hazard; 1,000 ft2 for extra hazard|
|B||Fires in flammable liquids, combustible liquids, petroleum greases, tars, oils, oil-based paints, solvents, lacquers, alcohols, and flammable gases.||10 feet for Class K; 50 feet for others||50 feet||N/A|
|C||Fires that involve energized electrical equipment.||N/A||75 feet||Same as Class A|
|D||Fires in combustible metals, such as magnesium, titanium, zirconium, sodium, lithium, and potassium.||N/A||75 feet for light hazard; 25 feet for extra hazard||N/A|
|K||Fires in cooking appliances that involve combustible cooking media (vegetable or animal oils and fats).||10 feet||30 feet||N/A|
How to Mount and Identify Fire Extinguishers
After choosing the right location for your fire extinguisher, you need to mount it securely and identify it clearly. According to NFPA 10, fire extinguishers should be mounted using the manufacturer’s approved hangers or brackets, or placed in cabinets or wall recesses. The following are some guidelines for mounting fire extinguishers:
- Height: Fire extinguishers should be installed at a height that is convenient for potential users, but not higher than 5 feet above the floor for extinguishers weighing 40 pounds or less, and not higher than 3.5 feet above the floor for extinguishers weighing more than 40 pounds. The clearance between the bottom of the extinguisher and the floor should not be less than 4 inches.
- Visibility: Fire extinguishers should be installed in conspicuous locations where they can be easily seen by potential users. If the fire extinguisher is not visible from all directions of travel, a sign or symbol should be provided to indicate its location. The sign or symbol should be large enough to be seen from a distance of at least 50 feet.
- Accessibility: Fire extinguishers should be installed in accessible locations where they can be reached quickly and safely by potential users. They should not be obstructed by furniture, equipment, doors, or other objects that might interfere with their use. They should also not be exposed to physical damage, corrosion, extreme temperatures, or tampering.
The following table shows some examples of good and bad mounting and identification practices for fire extinguishers:
|Good Practice||Bad Practice|
|Fire extinguisher is mounted on a wall using a bracket and is clearly visible from the hallway.||Fire extinguisher is placed on the floor behind a desk and is hidden from view.|
|Fire extinguisher is mounted inside a cabinet with a glass door and a sign indicating \”FIRE EXTINGUISHER\” above it.||Fire extinguisher is mounted inside a cabinet with a solid door and no sign indicating its presence.|
|Fire extinguisher is mounted on a wall near the exit door of a kitchen and is within easy reach of potential users.||Fire extinguisher is mounted on a wall behind the stove in a kitchen and is too close to the fire hazard and too high for potential users.|
How to Store Fire Extinguishers at the Right Temperature
Another important factor to consider when storing fire extinguishers is the temperature. Fire extinguishers are designed to operate within a certain temperature range, depending on the type and model. If the fire extinguisher is exposed to temperatures that are too high or too low, it can affect its performance, reliability, and lifespan.
According to NFPA 10, fire extinguishers should be stored at temperatures that are within the manufacturer’s recommendations. The following are some general guidelines for different types of fire extinguishers:
- Dry chemical fire extinguishers: These are the most common type of fire extinguishers, and they contain a powder that can smother Class A, B, or C fires. Dry chemical fire extinguishers can withstand a wide range of temperatures, from -40°F to 120°F. However, some models may have lower or higher limits, so check the label before storing them.
- Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers: These fire extinguishers contain pressurized carbon dioxide gas that can displace oxygen and suffocate Class B or C fires. Carbon dioxide fire extinguishers can operate at temperatures from -40°F to 120°F, but they may lose pressure and effectiveness at lower temperatures. Therefore, they should be stored in above freezing temperatures if possible.
- Water fire extinguishers: These fire extinguishers contain pressurized water that can cool down and extinguish Class A fires. Water fire extinguishers can operate at temperatures from 40°F to 120°F, but they may freeze and burst at lower temperatures. Therefore, they should be stored in above freezing temperatures or in heated cabinets if possible.
- Wet chemical fire extinguishers: These fire extinguishers contain a liquid solution that can react with and suppress Class K fires. Wet chemical fire extinguishers can operate at temperatures from 40°F to 120°F, but they may freeze and lose effectiveness at lower temperatures. Therefore, they should be stored in above freezing temperatures or in heated cabinets if possible.
The following table shows the recommended temperature ranges for different types of fire extinguishers:
|Type of Fire Extinguisher||Temperature Range|
|Dry chemical||-40°F to 120°F|
|Carbon dioxide||-40°F to 120°F (preferably above freezing)|
|Water||40°F to 120°F (preferably above freezing)|
|Wet chemical||40°F to 120°F (preferably above freezing)|
How to Inspect, Test, and Maintain Fire Extinguishers
Storing fire extinguishers properly is not enough to ensure their functionality and safety. You also need to inspect, test, and maintain them regularly to check their condition and performance. According to NFPA 10, fire extinguishers should be subjected to three types of examinations: monthly inspection, annual maintenance, and periodic hydrostatic testing.
- Monthly inspection: This is a quick check that you can perform yourself to verify that the fire extinguisher is in its designated place, is not obstructed or damaged, and has a full charge and a readable pressure gauge. You should also check the date of manufacture, the last maintenance date, and the last hydrostatic test date on the label. If you find any defects or discrepancies, you should report them to the responsible person or service company for corrective action. You should record the date and initials of the person who performed the inspection on the inspection tag attached to the fire extinguisher.
- Annual maintenance: This is a thorough examination that should be performed by a qualified person or service company who has the appropriate tools, equipment, and knowledge to service fire extinguishers. The annual maintenance includes checking the fire extinguisher for any physical damage, corrosion, leakage, or clogging; weighing or measuring the extinguishing agent; recharging or replacing the extinguishing agent or expellant gas; replacing any worn or damaged parts; lubricating any moving parts; applying a verification of service collar; and affixing a new maintenance tag with the date and details of the service.
- Periodic hydrostatic testing: This is a pressure test that should be performed by a qualified person or service company that has the appropriate tools, equipment, and knowledge to conduct hydrostatic testing. The periodic hydrostatic testing involves filling the fire extinguisher with water or another non-compressible fluid and pressurizing it to a specified level to check for any leaks, cracks, or distortions. The frequency of hydrostatic testing depends on the type and model of the fire extinguisher but generally ranges from 5 to 12 years. The hydrostatic test date should be stamped on the cylinder or on a metal label attached to it.
The following table shows the recommended frequencies for different types of fire extinguishers:
|Type of Fire Extinguisher||Monthly Inspection||Annual Maintenance||Periodic Hydrostatic Testing|
|Dry chemical||Yes||Yes||Every 12 years|
|Carbon dioxide||Yes||Yes||Every 5 years|
|Water||Yes||Yes||Every 5 years|
|Wet chemical||Yes||Yes||Every 5 years|
For the complete inspection please read this article
How to Replace or Recharge Fire Extinguishers
Finally, you need to know when and how to replace or recharge your fire extinguisher. According to NFPA 10, fire extinguishers should be replaced or recharged under the following circumstances:
- After use: Even if you only used your fire extinguisher for a few seconds, you should replace or recharge it as soon as possible. This is because using your fire extinguisher can reduce its pressure and effectiveness, and expose it to contamination or corrosion.
- When damaged: If your fire extinguisher shows any signs of damage, such as dents, cracks, rust, leakage, or broken parts, you should replace it immediately. This is because damage can compromise the integrity and safety of your fire extinguisher, and make it unusable or dangerous.
- When expired: If your fire extinguisher has passed its expiration date or its recommended service life, you should replace it as soon as possible. This is because expired fire extinguishers may not work properly or may fail when needed.
- When low on pressure: If your fire extinguisher has a pressure gauge that indicates that it is low on pressure or in the red zone, you should replace or recharge it as soon as possible. This is because low pressure can affect the discharge range and duration of your fire extinguisher.
To replace or recharge your fire extinguisher, you should contact a qualified person or service company who can provide you with a new or reconditioned fire extinguisher that meets the same specifications as your original one. You should also dispose of your old fire extinguisher in accordance with local regulations and environmental standards.
Fire extinguishers are vital safety devices that can help you protect yourself and your property from fire hazards. However, they require proper storage and maintenance to ensure their functionality and reliability. By following the guidelines in this article, you can store your fire extinguishers correctly and keep them ready for use in case of an emergency. Remember to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and consult a professional if you have any questions or concerns about your fire extinguishers. Stay safe!