Buying Fire Extinguishers Safely

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The Rules

BS 5306-3:2009
Fire extinguishing installations and equipment on premises. Commissioning and maintenance of portable fire extinguishers. Code of practice.

Any extinguisher to be used in premises outside the home should be serviced to this standard. There are various  types of service and some eBay items are often not what they seem - here are some tips:

Why are so many extinguishers on eBay and so cheap?

Or sometimes not so cheap.....
Sometimes they are obtained as part of clearing premises where the owner/tenant has moved out or gone bust. A lot of the time it's because the seller has had to have the extinguishers replaced as condemned or due test - as safe & environmental disposal is not free some people will sell on their old extinguishers to save (& make) money.
Therefore many extinguishers on sale are actually unfit or even unsafe for use - whilst some sellers will openly say they are unserviced some will claim they are serviced - even going as far to apply service labels and tags (known as "rag & tag" in the trade)

New extinguishers - Commissioning

New extinguishers should be commissioned by an engineer as part of installation to make sure they are correctly assembled and located and that they have not been damaged or lost pressure in transit. If an item is listed as new in box bear in mind you still have to pay for safe commissioning - using a fire protection company or website that offers commissioning as part of supply may be cheaper

Extended Service/Discharge Test

Every 5 years all types other than CO2 have to be set off (to check performance is as designed), stripped down (for internal examination for rust, etc) and recharge (to replace the used out of date contents and renew O-rings etc).
This is very labour intensive and the cheap cost to the trade of new equipment and the fact many current extinguishers fail internal examination (due to being minimum quality imports) means many extinguishers are simply replaced with new - leading to a lot of surplus equipment of dubious efficacy & safety that sometimes ends up on eBay

Overhaul

Every 10 years CO2 extinguishers have to be overhauled - this is similar to an Extended Service but includes a hydraulic pressure test of the cylinder and new valve  as these extinguishers are subject to Pressure Vessel safety legislation as unlike other types they are under high pressure (55 bar or 825psi).
Again it is often cheaper to replace new, although a handful of approved centres (this isn't a workshop or garden shed job!) still test the cylinders - they are punch stamped in the cylinder neck with the month & date of test plus the test house's identifier - also the valve will be dated with the same year as the test as it is new.

Condemned/Due test

Some extinguishers on eBay are not simply unserviced, but have been condemned as unsafe to use or are overdue test with components that may be past their best (e.g. foam only has a life of 5 years then it degrades becoming less effective).
Extinguishers may be ineffective, fail to operate, or even rupture,  none of which are good if you have a fire.
If it's got the old colour coded body (cream, blue, black) it will be too old to be serviceable, if it's bashed and battered it will be unsafe.
Very old extinguishers (pre 1990's) are collectors items only!

Costs

If you are willing to take your luck on an unserviced extinguisher that may fail inspection or be unfit, then price is not an issue.
Recently serviced equipment can be cheap, but may be due replacement very soon.
A water or foam extinguisher that has been 'tested' or extended serviced by the seller is a con unless at least £10-15+ minimum (or they aren't making any money or a loss).
Powder extinguishers aren't economical to extended service so view any tested units with suspicion - it would cost £10 for the smallest 1kg extinguisher up to £25 for the biggest to make even a small profit
CO2 units would have to be at least £15-20 if tested/overhauled and would have been repainted and not in original markings.
Wet Chemical would be in the £25-£45 range if genuinely 'tested'

Buyer Beware!

We all want to save a few pounds here and there, but with equipment intended to save your business or property and maybe even your life you should not scrimp.
There are plenty of low cost internet suppliers who commission on site and many sensibly priced fire protection firms out there.
Don't buy other peoples waste that they are trying to get rid of (most listings!) innocently or otherwise.
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