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The Dangers of Fire Sprinkler Impairment

Posted on: March 27, 2014

In our last blog post, we talked about the results of a study that looked at the effectiveness of fire sprinkler systems in industrial settings. The study, which can be viewed here mentioned a few cases where sprinklers were present, but were impeded or impaired. In most of the cases where fire sprinklers were present but failed to operate, the failure could be traced back to what the report authors call the “human element”—activities conducted by people that either support of defeat the effectiveness of sprinkler protection.

The human element of fire sprinkler operation starts before the sprinkler is installed, with design and review of sprinkler system placement and hardware as well as competent evaluation of whether or not the water supply will be able to meet the demands of a fire in the building. For best results, the sprinkler system should be designed in such a way that it anticipates the most challenging fires instead of being designed with the lowest-cost solution in mind.

Fire sprinklers are amazingly resilient and often perform with great effectiveness in spite of design deficiencies. However, they are less apt to perform well in the face of human activities after they’ve been installed. Such activities may include:

  • Closing valves
  • Not restoring sprinkler systems after they’ve been discharged
  • Not having a person to make sure sprinkler valves stay open until authorized to be shut off

What causes fire sprinklers to fail?

Sprinklers left out of concealed spaces – when designing a fire sprinkler system, it’s critical that you extend the system to operate in concealed  spaces such as the space beneath a mezzanine or around other enclosures. Fires that are allowed to grow before they can be reached by fire sprinkler systems tend to be as damaging as if there were no sprinklers in the building at all.

Sprinklers that get overwhelmed by large fires – these types of situations are, fortunately, exceedingly rare, usually involving a deficiency with the sprinkler water supply. The referenced study includes fires in three warehouses: one that stored rubber tires, one that stored non-woven textiles, and one that stored and baled cotton. In all of three, deficient water supplies were believed to be the critical factor in the failure to control the fire. All three fires resulted in the total destruction of the buildings and contents.

Sprinklers were impaired during use – one of the worst things that can happen during a fire is someone shuts down the fire sprinkler system before the fire has been put out. In these situations, known as impairments, the shutting off of the fire sprinkler system resulted in more damage than if there had been no fire sprinkler to begin with.

Fortunately, when fire sprinklers are installed in the fire’s area of origin and operate as designed (which occurs in the vast majority of cases), fires almost always remain small and controlled. This is why the value of automatic fire sprinklers continues to be values across almost all occupancies.

For fire sprinkler services in New Jersey or Delaware, call Confires today.

If you like this, then you may be interested in: The Importance of Fire Sprinklers in Industrial Settings

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