Sprinkler Installation

According to the National Protection Fire Association (NPFA), flame damage was confined to the room of origin in 95 percent of fires occurring in properties with sprinklers, compared with 74 percent of fires in locations without automatic suppression equipment.

Automatic sprinkler systems are a common tool for protecting lives and property from fire damage, and with good reason. For most types of property, damage is typically reduced between 40 and 70 percent when sprinklers are installed.

Fire suppression systems vary according to the types of locations and hazards involved. Many sprinkler systems fall into two broad categories:

  • Wet-pipe systems, the most common form of sprinkler system, involve pipes that are constantly filled with water. Wet-pipe systems are simpler to install, maintain and modify than other forms of automatic fire suppression.
  • Dry-pipe systems are filled with pressurized air or nitrogen until a fire breaks out. Once the system is activated, water flows through pipes to open sprinklers and the fire. Dry pipe systems are designed to reduce fire damage in areas where wet pipe systems would freeze, such as unheated warehouses, outdoor loading docks and large commercial freezers.

Other types of systems may be used to protect against specific exposures. Chemical, carbon dioxide, foam or halogen systems may be used to address specific needs.

Most fire suppression systems are designed to restrict fire damage to the room in which the fire breaks out by preventing flames from spreading to adjacent rooms or buildings.

One exception to this method is the Early Suppression Fast Response (ESFR) sprinkler system, which is designed to extinguish a fire by penetrating the fire plume and attacking the fire’s fuel source. ESFR systems are typically used to protect storage facilities.

Causes of Failure

While sprinklers have a well-established history of protecting lives and property from fire damage, systems can fail for a number of reasons.

According to NFPA, the most common cause of sprinkler system failure is the system being shut off before a fire occurs. This can be due to routine system maintenance, or for reasons such as the building being vacant. Other issues may include system leaks, dirt in the water supply or sprinkler pipes being damaged by forklifts.

Another common problem is an obstruction such as lights, pipes, storage racks or other fixtures that disrupt the flow of water or other suppression agents as a fire breaks out. It is important to ensure that as equipment is installed, it won’t deflect water from the building’s sprinkler system.

Similarly, a change in how a room is being used may dictate adjustments to the sprinkler system that protects it. The installation of larger equipment, for instance, may require a higher water flow density than the existing equipment can provide.

Testing and Inspection

Another critical element in helping ensure sprinklers perform properly during a fire is routinely inspecting and testing the system components. You need to make sure the various elements are working and will be able to deliver an adequate water supply when it is needed most.

For instance, the system’s control valves, alarm valves, check valves and fire department connections should be inspected routinely to ensure that they are capable of supplying water to the sprinkler system.

Similarly, the system’s pumps and alarms should be tested routinely to improve reliability and to identify needed repairs long before a fire event.

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