Might need some light maintenance here….

I am a huge fan of sprinkler protection. Sprinklers save lives, they protect property and they can somehow always manage to save or ruin the day in movies and TV. In short, they are usually great. I stress the word usually. Like any mechanical system, sprinklers and fire protection water supplies require routine maintenance and regular inspections to remain in peak condition. There are a huge number of mechanical and electrical components that make up a typical fire protection system, and maintenance requirements vary depending on the type and even age of the system.

Studies by the National Fire Protection Association have shown that wet pipe sprinkler systems are 96% reliable when properly maintained. That’s pretty impressive, but consider the reverse: in 1 in 25 fires involving protected buildings the sprinkler system fails to operate properly. Dry pipe sprinklers (systems normally filled with air) were found to be only 74% effective. This is again with the caveat of full maintenance. These systems have additional mechanical elements (dry pipe valves and accelerators) as well as issues with corrosion adding to the increased failure rate.

The National Fire Protection Association tracks the effectiveness of sprinkler systems and a meta-analysis of failure causes is provided in the table below:

Table 1. Summary of sprinkler system failures[1]

Sprinkler systems fail completely to operate:

Sprinklers operate partially but fail to control fire:

  •          64% - system shutoff before fire began
  •          17% - manual intervention that defeated protection
  •          6% - lack of maintenance
  •          5% - wrong system type
  •          7% - component damage
  •          44% - insufficient water supply
  •          30% - water was not released onto fire
  •          8% - component damage
  •          7% - manual intervention that defeated protection
  •          7% - lack of maintenance
  •          5% - wrong system type

To get right to the point, with the exception of manual intervention (a nice way of saying somebody messed up and shut the system off during a fire), most failure modes could have been largely prevented by property inspection and maintenance. Regular work on a system would identify damaged components, failing fire pumps, obstructed water supplies and virtually all of the problems listed above.

So what are the required basics elements of a good program?

Table 1. Summary of fire protection maintenance and testing requirements.

Inspection Interval

Sprinklers

Fire Pumps

Fire Alarms

Extinguishers

Hydrants

Weekly

- check temperatures for heated dry valve enclosure

- 30 minute run test for diesel pumps

- Visual inspection of pump condition

-

-

-

Monthly

- Visual inspection of sprinkler control valves

- Verify air pressures on dry systems

- 30 minute run test for electric pumps

- Visual inspection of pump condition

-

- Visually verify position

-

Quarterly

- Waterflow alarm testing

 

- verify fuel level for diesel pumps

- Waterflow alarm signal testing for sprinklers

- semi-annual inspection of pull stations

-

Annually

- 2” drain test

- Verify waterflow alarms and tamper switches

- Visual inspection of pipe and sprinkler condition

- Throttled trip tests of dry pipe systems

- Full flow testing

- full visual inspection of all pump and driver components

- battery testing for diesel pumps

- full verification of panel, signal components and notification circuits

- functional testing of smoke and heat detectors

- verify emergency lighting

- service and retag annually

- visual inspection of all hydrants condition

- flush all hydrants and private water mains for 1 min

3-5 Years

- Full trip test on dry systems required every 3 years

- replace or calibrate system pressure gauges

-

-

- 5 year hydrostatic test on water or foam extinguishers

- 5 year performance flow testing on hydrants

6 Years

-

-

-

- test stored agent in extinguisher

-

10 years

- internal inspection of sprinkler piping

-

-

-

-

12 Years

-

-

-

- hydrostatic test for dry chemical extinguishers

-

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the requirements you might have for your system. The intent here is to get you to look at your latest fire protection report and see what you might be missing out on (hint: the most common issue we see is dry valve maintenance). A reputable fire protection maintenance contractor can be a huge asset in creating and executing a suitable maintenance plan and I would highly recommend finding a contractor you can effectively work with.

Please contact BFL Loss Control Engineering if you have any question or concern about your fire protection maintenance. Fires happen all the time and you definitely want to be part of the 96% who are protected and not the 4% who have to wonder how things went so wrong later on.

 

[1] Hall, John R. Jr., “US Experience with Sprinklers.” National Fire Protection Association, June 2013.

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