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10 Mistakes People Make With Extinguishers

We’ve been in the fire extinguisher business for a long time so we’ve seen a lot of crazy things, from minor mistakes to major no-no’s. While these things seem obvious to our trained eyes it may not be so clear to everyone else. When it comes to fire safety, certain missteps can be dangerous. Today we are going to share the top ten most common mistakes we see people make with their fire extinguishers. That way, you’ll know what to do and what not to do!

10. Never inspecting it

One common mistake we see is that someone purchases an extinguisher, installs it, then never looks at it again. In this clip from ABC news one person had a 36-year-old extinguisher in his garage! Not surprisingly, of course, it no longer worked. Throughout this clip, they stressed that extinguishers need to be checked, and serviced or replaced every so often. Our extinguishers are fully serviceable and can be recharged. This enables them to be used indefinitely. Some extinguishers are disposable and must be replaced at the end of their useful life. It’s important to understand what type you have, and how to maintain it.

All fire extinguishers must follow the inspection and maintenance requirements outlined in NFPA code 10. What this boils down to is a monthly inspection, annual weight check, and service by a licensed fire service company every 6 years.  For details on extinguisher maintenance see our blog post on Fire Extinguisher Maintenance.

9. Not having the extinguisher readily accessible

When a fire breaks out, every second counts. It takes about 30 seconds for most fires to double in size, but it can happen even faster depending on the fuel source. You may think your extinguisher is fine tucked under the seat of your car, but we know firsthand that the handle can get stuck in the wire harnesses under the seat, making it difficult to get out.

The trunk is another popular spot that can be problematic. If it’s buried under other items, it can be hard to find and get at in an emergency. Plus, a loose extinguisher rolling around with other items has a good chance of getting damaged and/or accidentally discharging. Keep it mounted in a safe and accessible spot, which brings us to our next mistake.
image of a fire extinguisher in the trunk with a bunch of stuff and a no-go emblem over i

8. Not mounting securely

You might read this and wonder “what exactly are fire extinguisher mounting requirements? How hard can it be?” There are three criteria that must be met to ensure an extinguisher is properly mounted:
    1. It is secure and will not become a projectile in a crash
    2. It is easy to get to, ideally within reach of the driver, so you don’t have to spend time looking for it.
    3. It is easy to remove from the mount so no time is wasted trying to get it out.

While you want to ensure that your extinguisher is secure, it also needs to be quick and easy to remove for use. We’ve seen some people use zip ties to secure the mount and/or the extinguisher and we do not recommend this!

Another popular but problematic mounting choice is Velcro. It takes time to get an extinguisher out of a Velcro bracket. Velcro also wears down over time. Make sure you get a quality vehicle bracket with a quick release that is designed for fire extinguishers. You might find our Blog post “What Vehicle Fire Extinguisher Mount Should I Choose?” helpful.
Fire Extinguisher mounting options

7. Getting the wrong kind of extinguisher

This is something most people don’t even realize is an issue, they just assume a fire extinguisher is a fire extinguisher. But there are actually different kinds of extinguishing agents that are appropriate for different uses. In fact, using the wrong kind of extinguisher can make it worse. So how do you choose?

Determine what kind of fires are likely to occur in the environment you want to protect. If you are concerned about electrical fires or fuel fires in your engine, you want a B:C rating. Class B is for flammable liquids, and class C means you can safely extinguish an electrical fire without getting electrocuted yourself. You do NOT want to use a class A water extinguisher in this situation! It might put the fire out but it’s not safe for electrical components, and can potentially just spread any fuel or oil around. We have a few great Blog posts to help you choose the right extinguisher for your automotive application. See the links below:
What Size Fire Extinguisher Do I Need For My Garage?
What Size Fire Extinguisher Do I Need For My Car?
What Size Fire Extinguisher Do I Need For My Truck?

6. Removing the nameplate

We’ve seen a few customers on social media remove the nameplate, and we know that some of you prefer that “super clean” look. However, unlike those mattress tags that say “do not remove under penalty of law,” the extinguisher nameplate is actually extremely important and there are consequences should it be removed.

First off, when you remove the nameplate this voids the warranty. This is in part because it removes the unique serial number. Serial numbers allow us to track the materials used in manufacturing and provide the necessary traceability for quality control by identifying and tracking products through the supply chain. These numbers are issued by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and per the UL listing, cannot be removed.

Second, the nameplate has use instructions on it. While you might be tempted to assume it does not matter because everyone knows how to use an extinguisher, this is not exactly true. Some people have never looked at these instructions nor had it explained to them. Also, we know that in an emergency the mind tends to go blank. These instructions are helpful prompts in an emergency for those times when the human brain is in fight or flight mode.

The nameplate also contains other critical information including the maintenance instructions, weight requirements, safety precautions, year of manufacture, hazard ratings (the type and size of fires it will put out), and more. Bottom line, do not remove the nameplate!

5. Trying to add a hose and run it to the engine

We understand the temptation to try to make your own little extinguishing system. But the reality is this won’t work effectively. A proper fire suppression system will have a different type of cylinder and a much higher operating pressure than a handheld extinguisher. This is because more pressure is required to push the agent through the tubing and into the area with enough force to be effective. Also, any modification of your extinguisher will void the warranty as it is not being used as intended. All firefighting products are designed and engineered with a specific use in mind. Altering these from what the manufacturer intended puts your safety and the safety of those around you at risk. Don’t do it!

4. Losing the nozzle and not replacing it, or using something different

This is similar to what we discussed above. Your extinguisher was engineered for maximum efficiency. Every part serves a purpose. You will notice that different types of extinguishers have different nozzles. This is important because the various types of fire-fighting agents act differently when discharged. The nozzle ensures the ideal dispersal pattern for the type of agent inside, and for the type of fire it is designed to fight. If you change the nozzle or remove it, then the functionality of your extinguisher is compromised and it will not work properly in an emergency. Make sure you check your extinguisher every so often and check that no parts are missing or damaged (see our article on Fire Extinguisher Maintenance for more.)  
image of Fire Extinguisher without a nozzle and a no-go emblem over it

3. Putting it back after discharging a little bit

On your extinguisher manual and nameplate, you will see that it says, “Recharge immediately after use. Partial discharge may cause extinguisher to leak.” Despite this, we have come across this issue quite a bit. It may seem like it should be fine if you only used it a little bit, but once used, the valve may not seal properly, causing the extinguisher to slowly leak over time. Also, with less agent, the extinguisher no longer carries the rating it is marked for. What if next time you have a bigger fire? Not only could your extinguisher leak out by then, but even if it doesn’t, you will not have the same firefighting power as when it was fully charged and it could fall short of what you need.

The other question we get asked along these lines is “Do you have to replace a fire extinguisher after you use it?” For our extinguishers the answer is no, you do not have to replace it entirely as all of the extinguishers in our product line are rechargeable. A certified fire service company will be able to service and recharge it, replacing the agent and seals so your extinguisher is ready to go again. If you have used your extinguisher and need guidance on getting it recharged, please contact us at h3rinfo@h3rperformance.com

2. Not taking the time to understand how to use the extinguisher before you need it

One thing we know about emergency situations is it is very common for us humans to “go dumb.” In our FireTalk episode with Search and Rescue Medic Kenneth Lindbloom, he talks about this in detail (you can view that interview here.) In this case, the best weapon you have is muscle memory, which can only be obtained by physically going through the motions. You can do this whenever you clean or vacuum out your vehicle. Just pull out the extinguisher and do a dry run. You should not actually pull the pin. Just practice pulling the extinguisher out of the mount, pop the hood, and go through the motions of putting out an engine fire. When you practice, remember the acronym P.A.S.S.
- Pull the pin.
- Aim at the base of the fire.
- Squeeze the trigger.
- Sweep from side to side.

A few things to remember:
- The tamper seal that holds the pin in can be tough to break. Twisting the pin as you pull is an easy remedy. (Do NOT pull the pin until you are actually going to use it. You can just pretend that you pulled it when practicing.)

- For engine fires, we recommend that you pop the hood and only lift it enough to discharge some of the agent into the engine compartment to knock the fire back a bit. If you have gloves or a towel handy, you can open the hood all the way and finish putting out the fire. If you first open the hood all the way, the rush of air could actually feed the fire and cause it to flare up.

- Before you try to fight the fire, make sure everyone has been evacuated from the vehicle. The car can be replaced. People cannot.

1. Not replacing a broken tamper seal, or using a regular zip tie

A  fire extinguisher tamper seal, otherwise known as a fire extinguisher seal, is a plastic breakaway tie that holds the pin in place. This is important because the pin keeps the extinguisher trigger handle from depressing and accidentally discharging. When you see the tamper seal in place, you know the extinguisher has not been used. Our tamper seals are made to breakaway when the pin is pulled (or twisted) firmly. Because of this breakaway feature, they can occasionally break in transit. If you pull out your new H3R Performance extinguisher and the tamper seal is broken, make sure the extinguisher didn’t discharge in the box and that the pressure gauge still reads full. Then contact us at h3rinfo@h3rperformance.com to request a new tamper seal. Be sure to include your order number, and a photo of the extinguisher showing the nameplate and the gauge.

We have seen some people replace the tamper seal with a zip tie or wire. Do NOT do this! A fire can grow dramatically in the time it takes to cut a zip tie or unwrap a wire. If you need to temporarily secure your pin while you are waiting for a replacement tamper seal, you can use the rubber band trick (see images below.) This is NOT a permanent solution but a great temporary set up until you can get an appropriate break away tamper seal installed.
image of a fire extinguisher with a rubber band used as a temporary tamper seal

We hope this helps you better understand your extinguisher and how to keep it in good, working order. Our goal here at H3R Performance isn’t just to sell you the best automotive extinguishers on the market, but to help you be a more informed consumer. Even if you don’t use our products, we hope you take this knowledge and use it to keep yourself, your family, and your vehicle as safe as possible.

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