University violates fire extinguisher code

The University is in violation of the International Fire Code as it has failed to service expired fire extinguishers in one aging campus science building.

Out of 23 fire extinguishers inspected by The Hatchet in Corcoran Hall, one was last serviced in October of 2008, four in September and October of 2009 and 18 in October 2010. None of the tags indicate that the fire extinguishers in Corcoran Hall were serviced this year, rendering all previous inspections void at the end of October.

Corcoran Hall, constructed in 1924, is home to the University’s physics and chemistry departments and their laboratories.

According to an official at the Office of the D.C. Fire Marshal, un-inspected fire extinguishers are a violation of The International Fire Code section 906.2, which states that “portable fire extinguishers shall be selected, installed and maintained” in accordance with local and national guidelines.

“Fire extinguishers shall be subjected to maintenance at intervals of not more than 1 year, at the time of hydrostatic test, or when specifically indicated by an inspection,” according to the National Fire Protection Association code section 10, 4-4.1. Inspections are valid for one year, according to the tags on the Corcoran fire extinguishers.

“We don’t want someone fighting a fire and have the canister not working,” Chuck Castle, president of Ace Fire Extinguishers, the company that sells and maintains GW’s devices, said. “The fire extinguishers at GW are good quality. Nonetheless, we always encourage having up-to-date fire extinguishers.”

There are more than 6,000 fire extinguishers on campus, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said.

The annual service involves checking the pressure gauge, verifying the seal and ensuring there is no external damage, Castle said.

“Due to the volume of extinguishers on campus, these annual inspections occur on a building-by-building basis,” Sherrard said.

The University will reinspect all extinguishers in Corcoran “later this month,” Sherrard said.

GW has seen 50 fires since 2008, mainly in residence halls, according to the University Police Department’s fire logs. There have been 149 fatalities nationwide in campus-related fires since 2000, according to Campus Firewatch, a publication dedicated to campus fire safety. None of the deaths have been at GW.

Ed Comeau, Campus Firewatch’s publisher, emphasized the importance of servicing fire extinguishers on a regular basis, although he noted that un-serviced extinguishers are not necessarily ineffective.

“It is critical that people know how to use them,” said Comeau. “The time of a fire is not the time to learn how to use an extinguisher.”

Extinguishers are serviced yearly for a reason, Castle said, adding that they are sometimes discharged, tampered with or damaged over time. Fire extinguishers expire, and must sometimes be replaced altogether, he said.

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