en-Gauge is dedicated to improving life safety, and for years we have been discussing the dangers related to uninspected and empty, missing and blocked fire extinguishers. Still, it never fails to distress us when we learn about a situation where uninspected fire extinguishers are a contributing factor to the loss of life.
A recent report from KOB Eyewitness News in Albuquerque, NM highlights just the kind of danger that unispected extinguishers can pose to families. In this situation, the extinguisher inspections were negelected in an apartment complex and the results were fatal for a little girl. According to kob.com:
There are many Albuquerque apartment complexes with big problems. What landlords and tenants may not realize is that some problems could be a matter of life or death.
A fire ripped through one Albuquerque apartment, killing one-year-old Malia Mitchell last September. The girl's mother tried using two different fire extinguishers but said neither of them worked.
As in most localities, police cars in Midland, Texas are equipped with Fire Extinguishers in case the officers come across a traffic fire emergency. Unfortunately, it took a tragedy to realize that many of those extinguishers went years without an inspection and may have been non-functional for extended periods of time. This discovery had prompted new legislation in Texas to ensure the exinguishers are inspected and maintained properly.
According to CBS7.com, whose investigation into the tragedy and the lack of fire extinguisher inspection inspired the proposed legislation:
...[following] a fiery car crash in 2009 that killed an 18-year-old Midland girl, her father discovered that some of those extinguishers went years without inspection.
"It causes great concern for me. They had non-working fire extinguishers and one was expired for at least three to four years", said her father, Richard Corley.
A CBS 7 investigation revealed that the two extinguishers that didn't work the night of the crash weren't the only extinguishers out of date.
That became apparent when talking to the company Midland contracts for inspections.
"Vehicles are kind of funny. No matter how hard we try, we cannot catch 100 percent of the trucks or 100 percent of the vehicles. That's just the nature of the beast", said James Haun of Midessa Fire Extinguishers.
Calls to local, state and national organizations soon revealed that there is no agency or organization that oversees the inspection of fire extinguishers in city vehicles.
"The city would be the entity that's responsible for making sure that those standards are upheld", explained Jerry Hagins of the State Fire Marshal’s Office in Austin.
It's a violation of law to have an expired fire extinguisher in a business, but having one in a police car is perfectly legal.
The comment that strikes us the most that by the company in charge of fire extinguisher inspections. Vehicles are not "kind of funny", especially those used by our first responders most likely to be on the scene of a traffic fire. These fire extinguisher have to work as they are extremly likely to be called upon in life and death situaitons.
Apparently, at least one Texas Legislator feels the same way. CBS7.com continues:
After our story, Representative Tom Craddick, decided to take action.
"To me it just makes sense. If you're going to compel your officials to have it in the car you ought to make sure they work", he said.
In drafting House Bill 564, Craddick hopes to require annual fire extinguisher inspections for local governments that keep fire extinguishers in their vehicles.
We couldn't agree more. Although with fire extinguishers this vital to public safety, annual inspections probably don't go far enough. These critical life safety devices should be subject to at least the same level of inspection as those recommended in NFPA 10 for commercial buildings - a 30-day manual inspection or electronic monitoring of those extinguishers like that provided by en-Gauge with our electronic fire extinguisher monitoring system.
This past week I stayed in Miami in a boutique size, big chain hotel. My stay at the hotel was terrific. Helpful and friendly staff, clean rooms and well kept facilities made my stay very pleasant, I would gladly stay there again. Even in this well run hotel, however, the fire extinguisher outside my room was empty.
Walking to my room, I noticed the Class ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher on the 9th floor had lost pressure The pressure gauge read empty. There was no visible means to tell when it was last inspected. The fire extinguisher was in a locked cabinet.
I informed the front desk to the problem on both Saturday the 18th and Sunday the 19th, and yet the inoperable fire extinguisher remained in service through my return to the hotel on the Wednesday the 22nd.
On Wednesday the 22nd, I again informed the front desk and stressed why having no usable fire extinguishers on the 9th floor was such a bad idea. When I checked on the 23rd, nothing had been done although it was assured it would get fixed.
During both my visits to the hotel there was construction being done on the 9th floor, and the only visible fire extinguisher was the empty, inoperative fire extinguisher close by in the hall. This creates a dangerous workplace situation, as well as a situation where hotel guests are at increased, unnecessary risk.
During my second visit I mentioned this issue to a member of the wait staff while asking who to talk to about this. He said that he was not surprised as there has been “an empty one in the kitchen for months”.
I can’t say how long the fire extinguisher was empty. I can say it showed no signs of vandalism and it may have been inspected to code. It likely just leaked.
I do not know if has been fixed.
Yet again, proof that 30 day fire extinguisher inspections are insufficient.
Fire extinguisher inspection
There are building owners and managers in all sectors who neglect 30 day fire extinguisher inspections, To those that do, I say, you’re making a mistake. You need to respect the fire codes and get the inspection job done or start monitoring your fire extinguishers.
Fire extinguishers and fire systems as a whole are not infallible, buildings need layers of fire protection, fire extinguishers are layer #1 in stopping a small fire from becoming a blaze. Fire extinguishers in commercial structures in the United States stop more than 500 fires everyday* That includes an estimated 20 times everyday in hotels.
The en-Gauge technology to electronically monitor fire extinguishers was well received at the annual Texas State Fire Marshals’ Conference in Austin Texas. en-Gauge’s leading regional distributor displayed the technology at the conference and the activity around their display was consistently high throughout the show.
Many of the regional fire marshals hadn’t seen the technology in person and took advantage of the display to learn how it works and the many benefits it offers a life safety program. Many of the AHJ’s seeing the technology for the first time asked “why hasn’t this been done before”; a refrain we have heard for years from uniformed officials. Another exhibitor said afterwards; “the monitored fire extinguishers were definitely the main attraction during the exhibitor portion of the Conference.”
A third major concern that businesses must be aware of is empty or depressurized extinguishers. This is especially concerning, because the extinguisher is available and accessible, but when the user tries to fight the fire, the fire extinguisher does not function properly. A non-pressurized fire extinguisher is a code violation and an example of the type of concern the 30-day fire extinguisher inspection is meant to address. Unfortunately, it is a concern that is all to common as the 30-day fire extinguisher inspection leaves large windows of vulnerability (if they are performed at all).
As with missing and blocked fire extinguishers, it is easy to find depressurized (either through previous discharge or a slow leak) fire extinguishers in buildings. Here are some examples of depressurized or empty fire extinguishers I"ve found in the last few months:
Depressurized or Empty Fire Extinguishers
Sorry about the focus on this one, I was just getting used to my new iPhone
Empty or depressurized fire extinguishers are a serious life safety risk. They are meant to be identified and addressed during the monthy, 30-day fire extinguisher inspections. Unfortunately, only a small fraction of these inspections are actually performed and that puts lives at risk. The 30 day window between inspections also is a substantial concern. A much more effective method for complying with NFPA 10 is electronic monitoring of extinguishers which keeps track of the pressure in your extinguishers 24 X 7 X 365.