Extinguishing old fire extinguishers is required

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An expiration date is stamped on the body of fire extinguishers so you know when to replace them. (Photo by Mike Schoonveld)

Name something you buy and hope you never have to use?

At first, that would seem a tough question, but how about Band-Aids, how about insurance, how about fire extinguishers?  There are probably others.

Have you ever pulled out a Band-Aid so old the sticky stuff wasn’t sticky or the gauze was less than “gauzy?”  I have. Time to buy another pack I hope I never to use.

Luckily, I’ve always had a fully-paid policy when I needed to file an insurance claim, but I know people who needed insurance after their policy had lapsed.

What about fire extinguishers?  Boating laws and common sense say a fire extinguisher is required equipment on many boats so a new boat owner buys one, installs it and then what?

For most, it sits there year after year after year, luckily, never being needed.

What boaters should do is regularly “unstow” the extinguisher and check it to make sure it’s in good shape, fully charged and ready to “never use”. It’s a simple check. There’s a built-in gauge with an indicator needle. If it’s in the green, it’s good. If it’s out of the green and points to red, get a new one. They are not rechargeable.

Now, however, the U.S. Coast Guard has introduced a new regulation about on-board fire extinguishers, effective since last April. Not only does an extinguisher need to be fully charged and properly stowed to pass muster, it has to have been purchased less than 12 years earlier.

A 13 or 14 year or older extinguisher might still work, but it could be like a Band-Aid with funky gauze on it. A user will never know until it’s time to use it. That’s no big deal with a Band-Aid but it’s a big deal if, in an on-board fire emergency the extinguisher goes “phfft” instead of “whoosh”.

So check the extinguisher on your boat to make sure it’s fully charged, but turn it over and look for the date stamp on the body of the unit. Mine has the date embossed on the bottom of the bottle and it’s still up to date.

Some may have the date abbreviated, like ‘17 and stamped on or near the UL label.  If your extinguisher has a date stamp older than 2010 it needs to be retired, both legally, and for your own peace of mind.

There are three legal or proper things to do with an out of date extinguisher.

Many fire departments will take old extinguishers and dispose of them properly or use them in training exercises. If that won’t work for you, take them to a hazardous waste disposal site. I’ve put my clearly marked “old timer” extinguisher in my workshop close to my main extinguisher. In an emergency one marked “OLD” can serve as a back-up. I hope I never have to use it.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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