When you think of a fire breaking out, what comes first to your mind? Call 911?
Sure, but what if it is a small fire and can be brought under control if you take immediate action? You’d not only save lives but also prevent considerable damage to property and valuables.
For this very reason, you need a fire extinguisher. Every home needs to have at least one if not multiple fire extinguishers for emergency situations.
But though it is a safety device, I have heard of instances where a fire extinguisher exploded and had minor collateral damage. But is it a myth or a fact? Can a fire extinguisher really explode at home?
Yes, a fire extinguisher can explode. Though it is very rare, it can happen due to multiple reasons and the explosion can be loud and can cause some collateral damage. However with proper precautions, you can ensure such an incident never happens.
The extent of damage in the event of a fire extinguisher explosion varies as per the weight of the fire extinguisher. If it’s a small fire extinguisher, the explosion will be small and it can result in minor injuries.
If you’re using a rather large and heavy fire extinguisher, the explosion can be big enough to cause grievous injuries. Hence it is very important to buy a fire extinguisher of the right size and grade as prescribed by the US Fire Administration.
Reasons for explosion of fire extinguisher
Let us now dive deep and see what are some of the reasons that can cause a fire extinguisher to explode at home.
A fire extinguisher at home is of the ABC grade and can be used for most of the fires originating at home. Here, ABC stands for the following:
A – For use with ordinary fires like cloth, wood and paper
B – For use with combustible and flammable liquids
C – For use with electrical appliances and tools
An ABC fire extinguisher contains dry chemical powder and is stored in the extinguisher container in a highly pressurized state. When the fire extinguisher is used, the chemical is released through the nozzle and is used to put off the fire.
Due to physical injury and mechanical damage
Handling the fire extinguisher roughly can have undesirable effects. As the pressure inside a fire extinguisher is high, physical damage like falling from a height or significant physical injury to the container can build up the pressure inside which the outer container will find it difficult to sustain. This can result in an explosion.
Hence it is imperative to handle the fire extinguisher with a lot of care. Choose a fire extinguisher which is not very heavy and can be easily carried around.
Not servicing the fire extinguisher regularly
According to private fire protection and safety firm FireProTec, your domestic fire extinguisher which is used for domestic fires, should have a visual inspection every month. In this inspection, you must look for any physical damage like dents, corrosion or leakages. For this you need to do a thorough visual inspection.
You also need to look at the pressure gauge and note the pressure inside the canister. The pressure should be indicated in the right range. If it is low, that means your fire extinguisher has depressurized and might not work effectively in case of a fire. If it is over pressurized, it stands a chance of explosion in the event of rough and careless handling.
There should also be an annual inspection in which your fire extinguisher should be checked for any physical flaws or malfunctioning. While there is no need to recharge the extinguisher every year, checks must be made to ensure the extinguisher is working properly.
Finally, for home fire extinguishers in which dry chemical powder is used, an internal maintenance inspection should be done every 6 years. This includes refilling, recharging and complete inspection as well.
However as far as hydrostatic inspection is concerned, it should be done every 6 years for a typical home fire extinguisher. Failure to do this might not necessarily result in malfunctioning, but then you never know! It’s better to be safe than sorry.
Incorrectly disposing off the fire extinguisher
When you decide to dispose off your fire extinguisher, you need to make sure that you do it in a safe and responsible manner. If the fire extinguisher is discharged and is unlikely to be used again, you can dispose it off at the local recycling facility. Make sure to check if the extinguisher is empty by pressing the nozzle. In such a case, there isn’t much danger in the process of disposing it off.
However if the fire extinguisher is charged and yet you want to dispose it off, you must get in touch with the hazardous waste disposal centre and drop off your container there.
The important thing here is that you do not crush or handle the extinguisher roughly just because you want to throw it away. If it is a charged extinguisher, you need to handle it carefully even if you want to throw it away. Rough handling can lead to chances of explosion due to the high pressure within.
Reducing the risks of explosion of the fire extinguisher
There are a few things you can do to nullify the risks of an explosion.
- Handle your extinguisher with a lot of care. Keep it out of the reach of children and pets. If you are changing residence, ensure that you inform the packers about packing it safe and handling it well.
- Do not repair or open the extinguisher by yourself. If there’s any fault in the apparatus, contact a fire protection service that deals in the repair of fire extinguishers.
- Ensure periodic checks of the fire extinguisher. Get it inspected by a professional fire safety service.
- Take special care to dispose off the extinguisher at the right waste disposal facility.
All said, the chances of a fire extinguisher exploding by itself are next to none when all the precautions are carefully followed.
What happens if a fire extinguisher is overcharged?
Overcharging a fire extinguisher can damage the gaskets of the hose and cause leakage. You must then get the hose repaired by calling in a technician.
Can a fire extinguisher explode when putting off a fire?
Nope. Modern fire extinguishers have relief or burst valves in case the temperature of the ingredients inside goes too high. In this case, the valves will just leak and they can be repaired by welding them.
But if the relief valves are faulty, it can become a cause of concern and hence fire extinguishers should be regularly inspected.
How much does a fire extinguisher cost?
Fire extinguishers for the home are of two types. One-use and multi-use. One-use fire extinguishers can be used only once and then they are discarded. A one-use fire extinguisher for the home costs $15-$20 on an average.
Multi-use fire extinguishers cost anywhere around $35-$75. On an average, a good quality multi-use fire extinguisher will cost you $60.