1. Not having an extinguisher
You may be wondering “Are fire Extinguishers required in aircraft?”
The truth is, part 91 light aircraft are not required to have an extinguisher. Because of this, far too many GA pilots neglect this critical piece of safety gear. The fact is, if you have an in-flight fire, it’s too late!
Read on to learn more about aircraft fire extinguishers.
2. Not getting a UL listed extinguisher.
Some pilots try to do the right thing. They get an extinguisher, but opt for one that is not listed and rated by Underwriters Laboratories (UL). While a UL listing is actually a requirement in most states, there are some extinguishers – usually from outside the USA - that slip through the cracks.
A UL listing ensures that the extinguisher has undergone extensive testing, and has been given a rating for a certain size and type of fire. Any effectiveness claim made about a non-UL listed extinguisher cannot be verified. Avoid non-UL-listed fire extinguishers at all costs.
3. The wrong kind of extinguisher
A UL listing is not all you need to consider. Many people assume that any fire extinguisher will do the job. However, you also need to consider the type of agent, and the type of fire you are likely to encounter in an aviation environment. The wrong kind of extinguisher can make a fire worse and make flying more dangerous. So how do you choose?
You must get an extinguisher that contains an appropriate extinguishing agent. For aviation, that means a “clean agent” like Halon or Halotron 1. A clean agent, as the name implies, does not make a corrosive mess nor obscure vision. We’ve heard of pilots who have used a dry chemical extinguisher and weren’t able to see for several minutes until the powder settled! Not only is Dry chemical highly corrosive to aluminum, it is nearly impossible to clean up. Get a clean agent!
What does the FAA say about aviation fire extinguisher requirements? The FAA recommends a 2B:C rated fire extinguisher for a 1 – 6 person aircraft. Our Halon model A344T and Halotron 1 model B385TS are both clean agents that meet the FAA’s UL rating recommendation.
4. Neglecting inspection and maintenance
It is common for pilots to install an extinguisher and then forget about 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 an FAA repair station (if you require an 8130-3) or a licensed fire service company every 6 years. You may find our blog about maintenance helpful.
H3R Aviation Halon and Halotron 1 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.
5. Broken or incorrect tamper seal
A fire extinguisher tamper seal, otherwise known as a fire extinguisher seal or safety tie, is a plastic breakaway tie that holds the pin in place.
What is the purpose of a safety pin on a portable extinguisher? The pin prevents accidental discharge by preventing the trigger from depressing.
An intact tamper seal tells you the extinguisher has not been used. Our tamper seals are made to breakaway when the pin is pulled firmly.
We have seen pilots 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.
A helpful tip to keep the pin in place temporarily is the rubber band trick (see images below.) This is NOT a permanent solution and you should obtain a proper break-away tamper seal as soon as possible.
REMEMBER, the tamper seal can be tough for some people to break. Twisting the pin as you pull is an easy remedy. (Do NOT pull the pin and break the seal unless you going to use the extinguisher. Breaking the factory tamper seal voids the warranty.)
6. No practice
In an emergency, it is common to “go dumb.” One of the best ways to prevent this is to practice. We suggest making this part of your monthly check.
Practice pulling the extinguisher from the mount and go through the motions of putting out a fire (do NOT actually pull the pin). Remember the acronym P.A.S.S.
7. Mounted out of reach
When a fire breaks out, every second counts. It takes about 30 seconds for a fire to double in size, but it can happen faster. If your extinguisher is not within reach while you are flying, it could spell disaster. Keep it mounted in a safe, accessible spot.
8. Not mounted securely
An extinguisher should be mounted securely, ideally with the assistance of an A&P mechanic.
A loose extinguisher rolling around with other items has a good chance of getting damaged or accidentally discharging. It can also become a dangerous projectile in an accident.
9. Not recharging after use
Customers have asked, “Do you have to replace a fire extinguisher after you use it?”
An extinguisher that has been used – even if it isn’t empty – MUST be recharged. Once used, the valve will not seal completely, and it will leak over time.
This is why the extinguisher manual and nameplate advise: “Recharge immediately after use. Partial discharge may cause extinguisher to leak.”
Our Halon and Halotron 1 fire extinguishers can be recharged by a local fire service company (though not all of them have the equipment to recharge clean agent extinguishers). Certain FAA repair stations can also do this work, and provide an FAA Form 8130-3 if required. If you have used H3R Aviation fire extinguisher and need guidance on getting it recharged, please contact us at email@example.com
10. Tampering with the discharge nozzle
The parts used on a UL fire extinguisher are designed to work together to optimize its effectiveness. A discharge nozzle is one such part. We’ve had customers replace their extinguisher’s nozzle with one meant for another extinguisher. Doing so could affect the discharge range, time, and pattern – all of which would compromise the extinguisher’s effectiveness.
We also receive questions about replacing the discharge nozzle with a hose that is then fed into a discharge port, or into the engine bay.
This is not a good thing to do for the reasons mentioned above. A proper fire suppression system has a different type of cylinder and a much higher operating pressure than a handheld extinguisher, because greater pressure is required to push the agent through the tubing and into the desired area.
Be sure to follow the extinguisher inspection intervals to ensure no parts are missing or damaged (see our article on Fire Extinguisher Maintenance for more.)
If your extinguisher nozzle is damaged or missing, contact the manufacturer or authorized dealer for guidance.
We hope this blog has helped clear up confusion regarding aircraft extinguishers. If you have questions, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.