During the MCFP Virtual Conference series, expert Lee Kaiser, covers inspection of portable fire extinguishers & emergency exit lights. In the video below, watch as Lee dives in-depth on how to conduct a fire extinguisher inspection.
I want to move onto portable fire extinguishers. NFPA 10 is a standard for portable fire extinguishers, and how to do proper inspection, testing, and maintenance. We need to know a couple of things from the installation portion of the standard. Extinguisher labels are provided by the manufacturer but when we do an inspection, we're looking to make sure that those labels had these things. Does it show the listing organization and the standards that the unit meets for listings? Does it have the product that's inside the extinguisher cylinder? What agent's inside of it, and what classification of fires and fire size is listed on that label? That all should be right from the manufacturer unless somebody has put a home brewed label on the extinguisher.
Extinguisher placement. Extinguishers should be conspicuously located, readily accessible, and shouldn't be obstructed from view. We need to provide signage as necessary so if we can't see the extinguisher, we hopefully can see the sign to locate where the extinguisher is. They shouldn't be installed higher than 60 inches above the floor to the top of the handle. We need to be able to reach them easily and most people can't grab something higher than 60 inches off the floor. So, whether it's the wall hanger bracket or the cabinet, the handle can't be above 60 inches from the floor.
That brings us to monthly inspections. Extinguishers are subject to a lot of damage, misuse and people moving them, so we need to do a monthly inspection for them. Are they located in the designated location? Are there any obstructions to their access or obstructing their visibility to see the extinguisher installed? The pressure gauge, is it in the correct operating range? Many extinguishers have a pressure gauge and it'll be pretty obvious what the correct operating range is for the pressure of the extinguisher.
Another thing that we need to do is determine the fullness of it. Is that extinguisher full of agent? One way you can do that is through the technique of hefting. So, we pull the extinguisher out of the cabinet and we'll bump up and down with it with our legs, not our back, and it'll be heavy, right? So, we'll feel is it heavy and that'll generally tell us that it's full of agent. That's all the scientific way that we need to do for this monthly inspection. If it's a large wheeled unit, we need to look for the condition of the tire or the wheels and if it has hose on it, inspect the condition of the hose and the nozzle. Usually we use wheeled units where we're gonna expect to use that extinguisher on a more frequent basis. We want to spend a little more time looking at those. If we find anything wrong, then the expectation of the code is we do immediate corrective action. A lot of times that's just going to be replace it with a new extinguisher and take the one that's wrong, send it to our extinguisher shop and get it repaired or whatever happens to it at the shop.
There is a technology option to replace the monthly inspection. There is a device that you can purchase that ties to your fire alarm system for supervisory monitoring. That device senses if anything's wrong with the pressure of the cylinder and tells you to give supervisory at the panel. If it's removed, it's connected to the sensor and you'll know that it's removed. It has a sensor eye in front of it and looks for 36 inches of clearance out in front of the extinguisher. That device can help replace the monthly inspection if your building allows it.
Once a year we need to do a more thorough visual examination of the extinguisher. We're looking for obvious problems, damage to the cylinder, corrosion on the cylinder, or any nozzle blockage that may be there. Are the labels on the device present, legible and facing forward? Can they be seen easily as you stand and address the device? Check for, on the tag, the next 6‑year internal inspection or the next hydrostatic test. And then every device with the safety pin should have a plastic tamper seal. That tamper seal needs to be replaced every year during that test.
Chapter 8 out of NFPA 10 has requirements for internal examinations and hydrostatic testing. This is where we take the cylinder out of service, empty its contents and do either an internal investigation to make sure the inside of the cylinder's okay. In addition to that, we do a hydrostatic test where we pressurize the cylinder again with water inside of another jacket and make sure that it would stand the test pressures. This table summarizes some of the more common types of extinguishers and when those intervals are for internal examinations and hydrostatic tests. Let's pick one of them on the bottom; dry powder extinguishers.
A lot of us have these in our buildings, dry chemical ABC extinguishers. They need to have internal examinations every 6 years and we're inspecting to make sure that's getting done. Then a hydrostatic test on that device needs to happen every 12 years. And that gets marked on the tags of the devices.
The last piece to cover is on emergency exit lights and emergency signage. We find requirements for these devices in NFPA 101, the light safety code. Chapter 7 has means of egress and it's covered in Section 7.9 and 7.10. This is pretty simple for these devices. This won't take long to talk about.
The intent of these devices, is to provide 90 minutes of emergency lighting when the power to the building goes off. The powered exit signs are also powered by a battery so they will stay lit when the power to the building goes off. We're supposed to do a monthly inspection and test where we inspect the physical condition of the device. There should be a push button on the device and we're supposed to push that button on the side of the device, and hold it down for 30 seconds until it passes the test, we take our finger off and the light goes off.
Every year, we also need to do a longer test called a 90‑minute test, where we disconnect the power coming to that device. Hopefully it's all on one circuit and we just shut one breaker off and then it is caught by the battery and lights up. We should let each device run for 90 minutes and while they're running, we should be walking around each device to check the batteries and lenses. Taking a rag, clean the device, the lenses, make sure it's clean and then adjust the beams for proper alignment. If they all stay lit for 90 minutes, they pass the test. The last thing that the safety kit code says is that for these devices, we should be keeping records of this testing for the HJ to inspect.