7 Tips to Ensure Your Building Sprinkler System Will Protect You

If your building caught on fire today, would your sprinkler system activate and control the fire? Ninety-five percent of the time your sprinkler system will do what it is supposed to do, but there are several things that YOU can do to increase your chances even more. Below are seven tips a building owner can act on to ensure their investment doesn’t go up in flames.

Sprinkler System Design and Maintenance

  • If you are a landlord, contact your sprinkler contractor any time there is a switch in tenants. The sprinkler contractor can evaluate your system to make sure it is adequately designed to meet the needs of your new tenant. Sprinkler systems are not designed for all types of tenants. For example, a building may have originally been built as office space. If a plastic injection molding company takes over the space, and the sprinkler system was not designed for that kind of material (plastic) to be used and stored in that location, the sprinkler system will not provide adequate protection if there is a fire.
  • Annually, sprinkler systems need to be inspected by a qualified contractor. This annual process includes inspection and maintenance of the sprinkler heads, riser pipe, valves, fire pump (if you have one), as well as a main drain test. If your sprinkler system includes an anti-freeze loop or dry pipe valve, then these also need to be checked annually.
  • Every five years, an internal assessment needs to be done by a qualified contractor. This is to ensure there are no foreign materials in your sprinkler system piping or system blockages that would prevent the system from functioning when needed. Items that could prevent your sprinkler from activating include rust, sludge, and rocks.
  • Maintain a minimum of 18 inches of clearance below all sprinkler heads. This will allow the water being discharged to reach the fire and keep it in check until the fire department arrives.
  • Contact your sprinkler contractor any time a sprinkler head is damaged. Damaged sprinklers have a tendency to not activate when they need to, or activate at an improper time, which can cause a large amount of water damage.
  • Check quarterly to make sure the caps are on the water intake connections, called the Fire Department Connections, on the outside of your building. During a fire, this is where the fire department will hook into your building to assist your sprinkler system and supply water to your standpipe system (if you have one). Also make sure the area around the Fire Department Connection is visible, clear of debris, and able to be accessed easily. Over time the caps may fall off, break, or be stolen. Missing caps can lead to organic or inorganic materials entering your sprinkler system. They can even be vandalized with debris purposely placed inside the connection.
  • This is a basic checklist. Your building’s occupancy and sprinkler system design specifications may require more detailed checks and frequent inspections, such as the monthly churn test for fire pumps. Work with your sprinkler system contractor to identify the limitations and inspection requirements of your system

Fires can occur for many different reasons – some of which may be out of your control.  But, a properly maintained and designed sprinkler system is almost certain to contain the fire if the need arises.

Standards covering the design, installation and servicing of building sprinkler systems can be found on the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) website. NFPA 25, “Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems”, specifically addresses the points covered in this blog.

You can find additional information in the Society Insurance Risk Control Library or in our “Fire Prevention” blog series.

-Brian Anderson

Author

Brian obtained his bachelors degree in Occupational & Environmental Safety and Health from UW Whitewater. He has been in risk control for six years. Brian is also a lieutenant on his local fire department, where he has been an active member for over 10 years. He currently holds many certifications in firefighting, fire prevention and emergency management.

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