Information Notice 2001-04: Neglected Fire Extinguisher Maintenance Causes Fatality

WASHINGTON, D.C. 20555-0001

April 11, 2001



All holders of licenses for nuclear power, research, and test reactors and fuel cycle facilities.


The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is issuing this information notice to alert addressees to the danger of corrosion to fire extinguishers. It is expected that recipients will review the information for applicability and consider actions, as appropriate, to ensure safety at their facilities. However, suggestions contained in this information notice are not NRC requirements; therefore, no specific action or written response is required.

Description of Circumstances

On August 25, 2000, at the Port of Rotterdam, Netherlands, an employee who was trying to extinguish a small fire activated a fire extinguisher, which in-turn exploded, killing the employee. The cause of the explosion was corrosion under a rubber or plastic base protecting the bottom of the extinguisher. This base had trapped moisture next to the shell of the extinguisher accelerating corrosion. The corrosion was hidden by the flange and went unnoticed during inspections. The extinguisher was manufactured in 1987 by Ansul, Belgium, which is not affiliated with Ansul Incorporated, USA.

Following the incident, a number of other extinguishers were checked and other cases of serious corrosion were found. The vendor had conducted maintenance for the first few years after purchase of the extinguishers, but another contractor had been doing the periodic maintenance for the last nine years. The vendor has distributed a warning to owners of these extinguishers saying the annual inspection must include a visual inspection of the extinguishers with the base removed.

A warning was issued on this incident by the Government Industry Data Exchange Program, Agency Action Notice ANN-U-01-02 on October 5, 2000. This notice includes pictures of a corroded cylinder and is posted at the following Web site:

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The NRC endorses the use of the National Fire Protection Associations' (NFPA) Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers, NFPA 10. The standard provides guidance for the selection, installation, design, inspection, and maintenance of portable fire extinguishers. A general requirement is that extinguishers installed in an environment where they may be subjected to physical damage or degradation should be adequately protected. This includes wet areas which are conducive to corrosion (cooling towers, intake pumping stations, utility vehicles, etc.). During monthly inspections, visual examination of extinguishers should check for obvious physical damage, such as corrosion, leakage, and denting. If damage is detected, the extinguisher should be removed from service and given applicable maintenance. NFPA 10 requires fire extinguisher maintenance to be conducted at least annually and some extinguishers get an internal as well as an external examination. In addition to annual maintenance, hydrostatic testing is required every 5 to 12 years, depending on the type of extinguisher. Extinguishers that fail to pass visual examination or hydrostatic tests are marked "CONDEMNED" and should never be reused. It should also be noted that fire extinguishers are pressure vessels and some facilities elect to use a fire equipment servicing contractor to maintain and recharge their fire extinguishers.


Fire extinguishers are often the first line of defense in fire suppression, and should be readily available to suppress a fire in its incipient stages. Fire extinguishers should not constitute a hazard to the personnel and property they are designed to protect. Proper installation, inspection, and maintenance by qualified personnel should ensure fire extinguishers have a long service life.

This information notice requires no specific action or written response. If you have any questions about the information in this notice, please contact one of the technical contacts listed below or your facility's project manager.

/RA/ /RA/
Ledyard B. Marsh, Chief
Events Assessment, Generic Communications
   and Non-Power Reactors Branch and Safeguards
Division of Regulatory Improvement Programs
Office of Nuclear Reactor Regulation
Michael F. Weber, Director
Division of Fuel Cycle Safety
Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards
Technical Contacts: Naeem Iqbal, NRR
Peter Lee, NMSS
  Paul Lain, NRR
Charles Petrone, NRR
  1. List of Recently Issued NRC Information Notices
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(ADAMS Accession Number ML010670234)

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