A fire extinguisher, unlike a dog, is not for life. Your trusty fire-fighting friend (that’s the fire extinguisher, not the dog) only has a limited lifespan. Over time, the contents of non-gaseous fire extinguishers corrode the inside of the fire extinguisher canister or body, and the stresses caused by the highly pressurised contents can weaken body seams.
In addition, if fire extinguishers are not properly maintained, seals, valves and levers can stick or start to deteriorate. But how can you prolong the life as much as practically possible, and what can you do with your old ones?
Fire Extinguisher Maintenance
Extinguisher servicing is vitally important, but it is also expensive. Every fire extinguisher has to be individually checked, parts possibly replaced, and contents repressurised. With old extinguishers, it may not actually be worth the time and trouble to restore them to full working order, financially speaking.
Replace Not Repair
New, replacement fire extinguishers can prove a much more cost-effective option. Instead of repairing your old fire extinguishers, you can replace them with new, competitively-priced units from Fire Protection Online. Then you can be sure your fire extinguishers are fully functioning, up to current standards, and ready to use just when you need them.
Condemned Fire Extinguishers
Old or neglected fire extinguishers may be damaged beyond repair, due to dents in the body, cracking or internal corrosion. Not all defects are visible to the naked eye, so it pays to have your fire extinguishers checked by a trained person before disposal.
If your fire extinguisher is badly damaged, DO NOT throw it in the bin. Arrange for disposal by a recognised and licensed disposal company, who will make it safe before removing it and make sure you get a Waste Transfer Note as proof.
The only question is, once you have your new extinguishers delivered to your door by Fire Protection Online, what do you do with the old ones?
Fire Extinguisher Disposal For Individuals
By far the best method of disposal for domestic sized extinguishers, or one or two standard sized fire extinguishers from small business premises, is to take them to your local manned refuse recycling centre. Here, the staff will usually put them in a special holding bin, and lock them safely away from prying fingers!
Serviceable ones are taken away and recycled by external companies, whilst condemned, empty extinguishers will be stripped down for scrap metal.
Do not be tempted to put an expired domestic fire extinguisher into your normal waste bin. Some fire safety information sites claim you can discharge it and put it into normal waste, but this is a wasted opportunity for recycling and reusing.
If you are responsible enough to buy a home fire extinguisher, you are responsible enough to take it for recycling.
Fire Extinguisher Disposal For Businesses
First of all, don’t rush into disposing of any old fire extinguishers that still have some shelf life left. Safe but old fire extinguishers are ideal for fire training exercises, so your staff can have real, hands-on experience of discharging an extinguisher in a controlled environment – provided you have a suitable area.
Remember to take advice from your fire extinguisher manufacturer on clearing up the water, foam or powder afterwards; only water-based extinguishers are safe to discharge down normal drains.
Powder from extinguishers is generally biodegradeable, and can be disposed of into landfill within sealed containers. AFFF foam can become an environmental issue if it affects groundwater, so ensure it is washed away down sealed drains immediately (not land drains).
As we said before, if any fire extinguisher is badly damaged, DO NOT remove it yourself. Remember, a fire extinguisher’s contents are under pressure, and if damaged, the extinguisher could discharge if you move it.
Business owners have legal duty of care to dispose of any waste properly, so only use a company that complies with the ADR, has a license to carry controlled waste and has facilities to deal with pressurised containers.
If you have a fire extinguisher maintenance agreement, the company providing this should offer an exchange and disposal service with a small charge. If you require a non-contract disposal service, there will be a charge for this, with current rates at around £5 + VAT per fire extinguisher, plus collection.
Several national waste companies also offer a disposal service, but always use a reputable company. Major fire extinguisher manufacturers such as Chubb Fire also offer a service but fire brigades do not deal with extinguisher disposal.
Finally, you can contact your local council recycling centre, who will usually accept small quantities of fire extinguishers for recycling. Ring and check first to save a wasted journey.
Recycling – The Process
Each fire extinguisher will be sorted into types, and the contents depressurised if required. The headcaps, valves, tubes and cartridges are taken off and inspected, and these parts are either recycled or scrapped.
Any contents remaining in the fire extinguisher body are now emptied and reclaimed if possible, and the body is examined inside and out. The work is messy, time-consuming and can be dangerous.
If the body is OK, it may be refilled and used again, if not, it will be scrapped by cutting it in half or punching a hole in the canister.
Halon Fire Extinguishers – Dispose Of These ASAP
Halon fire extinguishers are now illegal to either possess or to use (except for aviation and military use), and you are required to take any existing halon fire extinguishers to your local authority recycling centre for safe disposal, or arrange for their disposal by a licensed waste carrier.
Green halon fire extinguishers were once popular for use in buses, minivans and boats, as well as in commercial environments.
Buying Second-Hand Fire Extinguishers
To be honest, the best advice is, don’t. If you value your staff, you’ll want to provide them with new, clean, modern extinguishers which, when bought online, tend to cost less than secondhand ones anyway.
Remember, an old fire extinguisher may have internal cracks, faults and corrosion you can’t see and won’t know about until it’s too late.