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Concerned About Accidental Fire Sprinkler Discharge? Read This!

Posted on: December 18, 2012

One of the most common concerns among fire sprinkler detractors is the inherent risk of accidental discharge from automatic fire sprinklers. And while this risk does exist, and could be a costly event, the risk is so small it’s hardly worth worrying about—industry records note only one in 16,000,000 sprinkler heads accidentally discharge each year! Even when a sprinkler does go off accidentally, the damage is minimal—even if the sprinkler is left to run overnight, any damage is usually located in just one area and shouldn’t be too much trouble to clean up.

How can a sprinkler accidentally discharge?

Overheating – automatic fire sprinklers are activated by heat, with each sprinkler head having a certain heat capacity before it activates. There’s no way for a sprinkler head to tell the difference between “good” heat and “bad” heat. Therefore, any areas in your building close to unit heaters, under skylights, and otherwise exposed to higher than normal heat should use higher rated sprinkler heads.

Even temporary heat sources, including construction lighting and TV cameras, can generate enough heat to set off sprinklers, so make sure you’re extra careful with things like these.

Freezing – freezing won’t necessarily cause your fire sprinklers to go off, but what can happen is worse. The water in wet pipe fire sprinklers can freeze, expanding and subjecting your pipes to thousands of pounds of pressure. This can break fittings, crack pipes, and occasionally force open valve caps.

Mechanical damage –sprinkler head components include a frame, a seat, and an operating mechanism, which can be either a solder link or a glass bulb. All of these pieces form a sealed unit which holds the sprinkler in place until it is called on to act. The parts are connected sort of like a coiled spring, storing energy they need to activate quickly in response to a fire. Unfortunately, any impact to the sprinkler can disrupt the setup, resulting in damage to and separation of parts. A large enough force can immediately open a sprinkler, but even a smaller impact can cause the sprinkler head to break up over time.

Corrosion – corrosion can weaken the components of your sprinkler heads, potentially causing an accidental discharge. This typically occurs with older fire sprinklers in need of replacement. Part of our New Jersey fire sprinkler inspection process includes checking the sprinklers for corrosion.

Deliberate sabotage – it’s not unheard of for sprinkler heads to be deliberately discharged in acts of vandalism or insurance fraud!

What to Do in the Event of an Accidental Discharge

The most important thing to do in the event of an accidental discharge is to collect and save all the components of the sprinkler. Pieces of sprinkler operating mechanisms are extremely valuable in the event of an investigation to determine why the sprinkler head activated.

Once you’ve found all the pieces, take a look around the area surrounding the sprinkler. Make sure you tell the investigators about the history of the sprinkler. For newer sprinklers, this would include things like the conditions under which it was shipped to the job site, stored, and installed. If you have an older sprinkler system, make sure you tell them things like the conditions of use, including the possibility of damage from materials handling equipment, the potential exposure to freezing conditions, and the possibility of temporary heat sources.

Accidental fire sprinkler discharges are exceedingly rare, and most can be prevented with annual fire sprinkler inspection. If you need fire sprinkler inspection in New Jersey, Delaware, or Philadelphia, call Confires today!

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