Refilling of Fire Extinguishers: Why, How and When to do it

We are all too aware of the devastation that a fire can cause. Even a small outbreak can very soon result in a roaring inferno. However, most fires can be contained if one acts quickly enough. This is why fire protection tools like fire extinguishers are so important. Fire extinguishers are our first defense against fire, capable of dousing an outbreak to prevent it from catching on.

However, this is not a buy-one-and-ready-forever deal. Like other fire preventions systems,  it is important to ensure that extinguishers are kept at top working order so that it is they are ready in any emergency. After all, no emergency comes knocking in advance! This is where refilling of fire extinguishers comes in.

Why should you refill the extinguisher?

An extinguisher is just a device to disperse the fire dousing element, be it foam, water or gas. It must be kept at a ready state at all times because a mishap can occur anytime. In fact, building codes specifying fire safety also detail fire readiness. A partially filled or empty extinguisher is same as a redundant one. Hence, one must be extra vigilant when it comes to refilling or recharging fire extinguisher.

When to refill the fire extinguisher?

In very simple terms, a fire extinguisher must be refilled anytime after it is used. Even if all you discharged was a short burst, it must be refill again. Discharge can happen when using the extinguisher to douse a fire, during inspection or faulty equipment. To put it in simpler terms, you must refill the extinguisher if:

  • The extinguisher was used to douse a fire
  • The extinguisher was discharged accidentally
  • The extinguisher used during inspection or testing
  • Inspection uncovered a partial/full discharge
  • The pressure gauge indicates low pressure
  • If the manufacturer specifies it

Keep in mind that some laws as well as manufacturers are very specific that an extinguisher must be recharged at regular intervals even if has not been used. For instance, most dry chemical fire extinguishers have to be recharged at six or twelve month intervals.

Refill or Replace

The question people often grapple with when it comes to refilling the extinguisher is whether one your refill or replace it. The answer depends on a few factors:

  • Fire extinguishers do not come with expiry date. The hard shell is strong enough to last years and it takes a long time for other parts to wear and tear. So, the filling agent is usually the only component that has to be replaced. A refill is perfectly adequate in this case.
  • This equation changes when there is any damage to the equipment. For instance, if you find that the pressure gauge has dropped even when you haven’t used the extinguisher even once, chances are that there is some fault in the equipment. It could be a clogged or ripped hose/nozzle, a broken pin, a weak handle or even a crack in the cylinder. In this case you must immediately replace the extinguisher.The cost factor is also important. If you find that refilling the extinguisher costs almost the same as replacing it, you may consider the latter option, especially if your cylinder is more than five years old.

How to replace your extinguisher

Recharging a cylinder required proper equipment and know-how. This is why you need professional service. Apart from the manufacturers, a number of refilling agencies also carry out this task. You can also check with your local fire department if they have any such facilities.

Before refilling, a cylinder is completely discharged or emptied. It is then dismantled completely. A hydro static pressure test is carried out to check for burst capacity and leaks. You can also choose to repaint the cylinder at this point. The extinguisher is filled with the firefighting agent through a vacuum based method. It is then charged or pressurized. Once it is full, it is again checked for leaks to ensure there are no leakages.

Conclusion

A fire extinguisher must always be ready because a fire breakout can happen anytime. This means that it must be refilled at regular intervals or at anytime the cylinder is discharged. It is best to do so through a professional agency because refilling of a fire extinguisher requires both expertise and specialized equipment.

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