If you ever come across an old, forgotten fire extinguisher, do not attempt to use it. Until a professionally trained person from a fire equipment testing service evaluates it, consider it a health and safety risk. An old fire extinguisher that hasn't been tested in years may cost lives—not save them.
Looks Can be Deceiving and Deadly
The last thing you should do is to place an old, untested fire extinguisher somewhere it might instill a false sense of security. If a fire breaks out and it fails at the crucial moment, someone could be hurt, or worse, fatally injured. Corrosion is also a serious risk. Even a small patch of corrosion can transform a fire extinguisher into a deadly explosive.
A Corroded Extinguisher Can Kill
According to fire extinguisher manufacturers, fire extinguishers can last for up to 15 years. However, the environment in which a fire extinguisher is kept—or abandoned and forgotten—has a significant effect on its eventual lifespan. For example, a fire extinguisher in an air-conditioned office will last much longer than one that is exposed to chemicals or moisture.
In a factory that uses chemicals, or a seafaring vessel that is exposed to saltwater, fire extinguishers eventually begin to corrode. The same applies to fire extinguishers left lying around outside. Fire extinguishers are pressurized. As a result, even a seemingly innocuous patch of corrosion can cause an extinguisher to explode when a person attempts to use it.
Remove and Report Abandoned Extinguishers
Australian regulations regarding fire extinguisher maintenance state that fire extinguishers should be tested every 6 months. These evaluations can only be carried out by a licensed professional from a local fire protection service. Obviously, the average, untrained person has no way of knowing just how old or faulty a fire extinguisher is.
Of course, the age and condition of fire extinguishers that are regularly tested can be ascertained by looking at their paperwork. However, the condition of a fire extinguisher that has gone unnoticed in a dusty corner somewhere is a mystery to an untrained eye. Report abandoned or forgotten fire extinguishers to your local council. You should also remove them to ensure that nobody mistakenly assumes they are safe to use.
If you suspect that a fire extinguisher might be dangerous due to corrosion or age, inform your local council. They will either direct you to the nearest fire extinguisher recycling facility, or arrange for the extinguisher to be removed. Don't take any chances with untested fire extinguishers, no matter how good a condition they appear to be in.