Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Let the Beatings Begin!

OK, This one is a serious note - so pay attention.

Being rather isolated, even when near towns, boats need to be more concerned about safety than say an automobile or house.  It is hard to just pull over to the side of the road when something goes wrong, and even harder to just step outside if needed.  Take for example one of the most feared events to a mariner:  Fire.

Rattle, Rattle, Rattle?
Most of us carry the required number of Fire Extinguishers, and many carry far more (we have 7 aboard Viking Star).  Perhaps the most common are the Dry Chemical fire extinguishers, and what I want to talk about is a much needed maintenance for them.

At issue is  that over time the dry powder begins to pack down inside the extinguishers.  Think back to flour, and how it can pack down into a denser mass.  Same thing happens with the powder inside these Dry Chemical fire extinguishers.  Assisted by the motion and vibration aboard modern boats - over time this packing can be very effective.  To the point where, when called upon for duty, the powder will be so packed in it will not come out.

I remember several years ago there were a series of moorage fires in the Seattle area.  One thing that caught my eye was during one fire 7 portable extinguishers were used, and only 2 of them worked!  Now, I do not know for sure if the other 5 failed because of packing, but can guess it is a likely cause.  Just because the pressure gauge reads Good does not mean your inspection is complete.  You need to take them out of their mounts and shake them.  Shake them good.  If the powder is free you will feel and/or hear it.

Whack, Whack, Whack!
If however you can not hear and feel the powder moving inside, it is time for a good beating!  Often you can just use your hand (assuming things are not too well packed in), but I like to use a rubber dead-blow hammer (I got mine at Harbor Freight for about $3).  Works great and does not risk denting the extinguisher (or my hand).

A few whacks will get things loosened up in no time.

Then give them a visual:  no parts missing or broken, hose still in good shape, no rust, and that pressure gauge is in the Green/Good area.

One other hint, if you can mount these horizontally (as opposed to hanging vertically from a wall) that will greatly reduce the chance of packing the powder, but not totally eliminate it.

I find I need to do this about twice a year to keep things moving freely.

So here's to yet another item one hopes to never use, but if we need to, we want it to actually work. . . .

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