Fire Protection FAQs
Your overall fire protection system is one of the most important things you have in your building. Between your fire sprinkler system, fire extinguishers, fire alarms and exit lights, it’s imperative you keep your systems in proper working order at all times. However, many people are unclear on exactly what their fire protection systems actually do and how they work. At Confires, we want our customers to have the best information possible about their fire protection systems. That’s why we put together this list of the most common questions we get!
- Fire Extinguisher FAQs
- Fire Alarm FAQs
- Fire Sprinkler FAQs
- FM-200 FAQs
- Halon FAQs
- Kitchen Fire Suppression FAQs
Q: How many fire extinguishers do I need in my building?
A: The exact number of fire extinguishers you need in your building depends on many factors, including building size, layout, occupancy levels, etc. In general, you want to have enough fire extinguishers in your building so you never have more than 75 feet between any two Class A fire extinguishers and never more than 50 feet between Class B fire extinguishers.
Q: Do I need to provide fire extinguisher training to my employees?
A: Yes – OSHA standards require you train your employees on how to use a fire extinguisher. Having fire extinguishers in your building but no one knowing how to use them is not much better than not having fire extinguishers at all!
Q: How often should I have my fire extinguishers inspected?
A: Per NFPA regulations, professional fire extinguisher inspections are required once a year. In addition, you should perform mini self-inspections every month in between professional service.
Click here for more information about monthly fire extinguisher inspections »
Q: What do the letters and numbers by the fire extinguisher classification mean?
Every fire extinguisher has an alphanumeric rating that tells you what types of fires it can extinguish as well as the size of fire it can put out.
The letters stand for the class of fire the extinguisher can be used against:
- A – ordinary combustibles (wood, paper, plastic, etc.)
- B – flammable liquids (oil, gas, petroleum, etc.)
- C – electrical equipment
- D – metals
- K – cooking oils and fats
The numbers indicate how much of the fire can be put out by the fire extinguisher: Every number before the A means it is as effective as 1 ¼ gallons of water. For example, 2A means the fire extinguisher is as effective as 2 ½ gallons of water, and so on. The numbers before B and C are a measure of the amount of square feet the fire extinguisher can put out. For example, a 10:BC fire extinguisher can extinguish a fire over 10 square feet.
Q: What kind of fire extinguisher do I need in my commercial kitchen?
A: Fire extinguishers for restaurant kitchens are known as Class K fire extinguishers. Class K fire extinguishers use a special process called saponification to put out fires caused by fats and oils by basically turning them into soap.
Whatever you do, make sure you never, ever put water on a flaming pan of oil. When water hits the pan, it sinks and vaporizes almost instantly, pushing the flaming oil up in a massive plume of fire.
Q: What is the best type of fire extinguisher for sensitive electrical equipment?
If you have sensitive electronic equipment in your building, such as in a computer room or data center, using a water or dry chemical fire extinguisher can cause as much damage as a fire itself. Instead, use a clean agent fire extinguisher such as a Cleanguard FE 36 (made by ANSUL) or a Halotron I (made by Amerex).
Halotron I – Halotron I discharges as a rapidly evaporating liquid that leaves no residue. It does not conduct electricity and is suitable to fight Class A, B, and C fires.
Cleanguard FE 36 – the Cleanguard FE 36 is a replacement for Halon 1211. The Cleanguard extinguisher has comparable performance and efficiency to Halon 1211 but is less toxic and has zero ozone depletion potential.
Q: How should I clean up after I use my fire extinguisher?
A: Since fire extinguisher residue can be corrosive, it’s important that you clean it up as soon as you know the fire has been totally put out. To do this, sweep and vacuum as much of the extinguishing agent as possible, using a damp cloth to get anything the vacuum leaves behind.
Q: What should I do if the needle on my fire extinguisher is in the red?
A: If the needle on your fire extinguisher is in the red, you should call Confires immediately and have the extinguisher replaced or recharged. You never know when a fire will break out in your building, and if your fire extinguishers aren’t fully charged at all times they may not be available when you need them most!
Q: I want to test my fire extinguisher. Can I discharge a little bit?
A: No. Discharging even a little bit of your fire extinguisher could cause a drop in pressure that will render it useless. If any amount of extinguishant is discharged, you should replace or recharge that extinguisher right away.
Most fire extinguishers should have a pressure gauge with a red section and a green section. If the needle is in the green, you’re good. If your extinguishers don’t have a pressure gauge and you want to test them, press in the pin. If it pops back up, the extinguisher is pressurized. If it doesn’t, call Confires right away!
Q: How long will a fire alarm last?
A properly maintained fire alarm will last about 10 – 12 years. Once your alarms start getting older than that, you should have them replaced – even if they’re working fine. Older fire alarms tend to run into more problems than newer ones, and you may not know if yours has a problem until it’s too late.
In addition, technological advancements are continuing to make fire alarms more effective and reliable, and you don’t want to be stuck with an outdated model that won’t keep you as safe as possible.
Q: What is the difference between conventional and addressable fire alarms?
The biggest different between conventional and addressable fire alarms is scale. Conventional fire alarms are ideal for small buildings, such as individual offices or retail shops. They go off individually when they detect smoke or heat and will help everyone escape your building safely and quickly.
Addressable fire alarms are a necessity for large building complexes or campuses. Addressable fire alarm systems can be customized in a variety of ways, including:
- Different devices having different alarm thresholds based on their location
- An enunciator panel in the front of your building to show exactly which devices or zones are alarming
- Easily scalable networks that allow you to add zones with ease
Addressable fire alarm systems are typically more expensive than conventional alarms, but the extra information they provide to firefighters and building managers is invaluable.
Q: What kinds of fire alarms are there?
There are two main types of fire alarms: ionization and photoelectric. Ionization fire alarms detect flaming, fast-moving fires – curtain fires, trash can fires, etc. Photoelectric fire alarms are best for smoky, smoldering fires, such as electrical fires that start out behind walls. There are also dual sensor fire alarms which can be used to detect both types of fires.
Q: Do I need a fire alarm system if I have a fire sprinkler system installed?
Yes. Fire sprinkler systems are an invaluable part of your fire protection system, but they only kick on after the fire has already started and may be impossible to escape. Fire alarm systems detect the presence of fire before the flames start, giving you extra time to evacuate.
Q: Is fire alarm monitoring worth it?
A fire alarm monitoring service will keep tabs on your building 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If one of your fire alarms goes off, the monitoring company will notify the fire department within seconds – you don’t even have to be there. Everyone has heard horror stories of people showing up to work and seeing the charred wreckage of what was once their office (and all their equipment, data, etc.) – don’t let this happen to you!
Q: Why does my fire alarm constantly chirp or beep?
Most smoke alarms will chirp at regular intervals to indicate their batteries are low. If your fire alarms seem to be making noises randomly, there could be a number of things going on:
The battery may be loose or improperly installed – make sure the battery fits properly in the battery slot. Otherwise, the connections may not make good contact with the battery. If the battery wasn’t inserted into the slot properly, just pop it out and put it back in.
The fire alarm cover may be dirty – over time, dust and dead bugs can collect in the sensor chamber of your fire alarm, causing it to chirp. Make sure you keep the sensor chamber clean (the easiest way to do this is to vacuum it out every time you change the batteries). If the room in which you want to install the smoke detector is especially dusty, install an ionization fire alarm so the dust doesn’t affect it.
The fire alarm may need to be reset – most new electronic fire alarms come with logic boards that tell the alarm to chirp when the battery gets low. Unfortunately, replacing the battery doesn’t always stop the chirping! Sometimes you need to hit the RESET button in order to ensure the smoke detector works properly.
The fire alarm may need to be replaced – if all else fails, you may need to have your fire alarm replaced. Fortunately, fire alarms are relatively inexpensive and replacing them is no problem.
If you have any additional questions about your fire protection system, or if you need fire sprinkler inspection, fire extinguisher replacement, or any other fire protection system service, don’t wait – call the fire protection professionals at Confires today!
Q: How much does a fire sprinkler system cost?
The final cost of your fire sprinkler system depends on the brand and type of sprinkler system you install, but for the most part you can expect to pay about $1 to $2 per square foot for new fire sprinkler system installations and about $2.50 per square foot for sprinkler retrofits.
The actual price of your fire sprinkler system will vary based on the overall size of your fire sprinkler system installation, influenced by things like building size, layout, and fire hazard. Don’t forget, many insurance companies offer premium benefits for buildings that have fire sprinkler systems installed, so you take that into consideration as well.
Q: How do fire sprinkler systems work?
Most ordinary sprinkler heads contain a small bulb with a colored liquid inside. This bulb seals the sprinkler head and holds back the water in the pipes. When the liquid gets hot (such as during a fire) it expands, soon causing the vial to burst and open up the pipe, allowing water to flow.
The liquid inside the bulbs comes in a variety of colors, and each color represents the temperature required to activate the sprinkler:
- Orange – 135°F
- Red – 155°F
- Yellow – 174°F
- Green – 200°F
- Blue – 286°F
- Purple – 360°F
- Black – 440O°F
Since the fire sprinklers are activated by heat, there is no risk of accidental activation of your fire sprinkler system by smoke or dust in the air. There is, however, a risk of your fire sprinklers going off due to tampering, whether accidental or intentional. If a sprinkler head gets accidentally knocked off (by a forklift, truck, repairman, etc.), there’s going to be lots and lots of water flowing through that sprinkler head until the system is shut down.
Q: Why do I need a fire sprinkler system in my building?
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fire sprinklers reduce the risk of death and average property loss by 50 to 66 percent. Broken down by industry, civilian deaths in sprinklered buildings between 1989 and 1998 were reduced by:
- 60 percent for manufacturing properties
- 74 percent for store and offices
- 75 percent for nursing homes
- 91 percent for hotels and motels
The average property damage per hotel or motel fire was 56 percent less in structures with fire sprinkler systems than without. The numbers above tell a compelling story. Fire sprinkler systems save money and save lives.
Q: How can I maintain my sprinkler system?
The most important thing to do to keep your fire sprinkler in good shape is to have it inspected by a Confires professional once a year. Regular fire sprinkler inspections will help catch any problems with your system that could prevent it from operating properly in the future. In addition, fire sprinkler system maintenance will usually lower insurance premiums.
In terms of specific do’s and don’ts when it comes to your fire sprinkler:
- Call Confires once a month to perform a quick fire sprinkler flow test
- Know the location of the fire sprinkler system shutoff valve
- Make sure the fire sprinkler system control valve stays open
- Have your system reevaluated for needed upgrades when:
- Your building’s water supply changes. This can happen if you add or change a backflow preventer or water meter, or face a reduction of public water supply
- Your building’s occupancy level or use changes
- Your building’s layout changes
- Leave the building and contact the fire department as soon as possible after the fire sprinklers go off, even if it looks like the fire has already been put out
- Paint the sprinklers
- Damage sprinklers (report any damage immediately)
- Hang objects from any part of the system
- Obstruct or cover the sprinklers
Q: Will all my fire sprinkler heads activate at once?
A: No. While water flows through the entire fire sprinkler system, each sprinkler head activates individually, meaning if a fire breaks out in your building the only sprinklers that will go off are the ones close to the fire. In fact, in over 95 percent of cases, only one sprinkler head activates and this is enough to control or extinguish the fire.
Q: Don’t fire sprinklers cause water damage?
A: While fire sprinklers can cause some water damage, a typical fire sprinkler head discharges about 18 gpm. By comparison, a firefighter’s hose discharges as many as 250 gpm or more! When you consider the alternatives (your building burning down or being flooded by thousands of gallons of water) the damage done by fire sprinklers seems much more worth it!
Q: Is there anything special I need to do if there’s a fire in my building?
A: The only thing you should do if there’s a fire in your building is get out as quickly and safely as possible, calling 911 as soon as it is safe to do so. If you have a fire sprinkler system in your building, it will do the rest! Fire sprinkler systems are fully automatic and will work even if the power goes out.
Make sure you don’t stop the fire sprinkler system until the fire department says it’s safe to do so. Even if it looks like the fire has completely died down, there’s a chance that turning off your system too soon will allow it to ignite again.
Q: How does an FM-200 system work?
A: FM-200 systems extinguish fires through a combination of chemical and physical mechanisms. The FM-200 gas is a potent refrigerant, meaning it is able to absorb large amounts of heat, and as such is able to physically cool the fire on a molecular level. In seconds, FM-200 gas gets the fire so cold that it can’t sustain itself and goes out instantly. Since it is a heat-absorbing gas, FM-200 leaves no residue and is colorless, odorless, electrically non-conductive, and non-corrosive.
Q: Who uses FM-200?
A: FM-200 is used by governments, universities, hospitals, and museums around the world that need a waterless fire suppression system to protect their valuable assets and equipment. Applications range from server rooms to data centers to computer labs and everywhere in between.
Q: How are FM-200 systems designed?
A: FM-200 systems store the FM-200 gas as a liquid in pressurized cylinders. When the system goes off, the liquid flows through a pipe and vaporizes, immediately absorbing the heat from the flames and putting the fire out. The specific amount of gas discharged from each nozzle is carefully calibrated to deliver the proper amount of FM-200 to each protected area.
Q: Is FM-200 safe for people?
A: FM-200 has been exhaustively tested to determine its safety. It has the most comprehensive toxicity database of any clean agent, and is so safe, in fact, that it is used as a propellant in pharmaceutical inhalers that dispense asthma medications.
Q: I have a fire sprinkler system; why do I need an FM-200 system?
A: While water-based fire sprinkler systems do offer highly effective fire protection, they will also ruin things like computers, electronic equipment, artwork, files, and more – sometimes doing as much damage as the fire itself! An FM-200 system provides fast-acting fire suppression that poses no risk whatsoever to any sensitive equipment, data, or files.
To be clear, an FM-200 system does not need to replace your existing fire sprinkler systems – like we said, fire sprinklers are perfect for controlling fires and limiting the spread of fires long enough to allow the fire department to arrive and put out the fire before it consumes your whole building. But for smaller applications, such as rooms where the water from a fire would do as much damage as the fire itself, an FM-200 system is invaluable.
Q: Does the ban on HCFCs affect FM-200?
A: No—FM-200 fire suppressions don’t use HCFCs. Instead, they use HFCs, which are designed to facilitate the phase-out of other ozone depleting chemicals.
Q: Is FM-200 more expensive than other fire protection systems?
A: FM-200 takes up significantly less storage space than other fire suppression systems, and when you consider the value of the assets being protected, an FM-200 system is more than worth the cost.
Q: Is a water mist as good as an FM-200® system?
A: No—water mist is not a gas, and therefore, it won’t penetrate all portions of an area the way an FM-200 system does. Extensive testing has shown that water mist systems perform poorly on small fires and are best suited for the suppression of large fires. Therefore, water mist is not well suited for small, shielded, or obstructed fires, exactly the type of fires most FM-200 systems are designed to extinguish. It’s also important to remember that water is electrically conductive and can be extremely damaging to sensitive electronic equipment or valuable assets.
Q: Is FM-200 safe for use on electrical fires?
A: Yes—FM-200 is non-conductive and is suitable for electrical (Class C) fire protection. Testing has demonstrated the ability of FM-200 to suppress typical Class C fires, including fires involving electrically energized cable bundles.
Q: What is Halon?
A: Halon is a bromine-fluorine-carbon compound found in handheld fire extinguishers and total flooding systems. In 1994, Halon production was halted under the Clean Air Act after the compound was proven harmful to the ozone layer. While Halon production remains banned, existing Halon supplies are still recycled, reused and perfectly legal. Halon is most commonly used for aviation fire protection.
Q: How does Halon work?
A: Halon works by chemically reacting with a fire’s components, breaking the chain reaction between the fire’s fuel source, even when its oxygen source and heat source remain.
Q: What is a clean agent?
A: Halon is considered a clean agent because it doesn’t conduct electricity or leave a residue after it evaporates. Halon is safe to use on electrical fires and doesn’t leave behind a cloud like carbon dioxide, making it ideal for use in areas with sensitive electronic equipment, such as data centers and server rooms.
Q: Is Halon legal?
A: There is currently no law prohibiting the use of existing Halon systems. Only the new production of Halon is banned, along with the use of Halon for training or testing. There are also laws regulating the disposal of Halon and Halon-containing equipment.
Q: What are some Halon alternatives?
A: After Halon’s production ban, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created the Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) program as part of the Clean Air Act. These include halocarbon-based agents and inert gas agents. Halon alternative agents must be clean agents—leaving no residue after extinguishing—and must also be non-conductive and able to be used on electrical equipment.
Q: How can I prevent kitchen fires?
A: There are a number of steps you can take to prevent kitchen fires including:
- Installing a kitchen fire suppression system
- Making sure you are up to date with kitchen fire suppression inspections, and you’re compliant with fire codes
- Cleaning your range hoods, walls and grease traps when they collect grease, as grease has a high risk of igniting when exposed to flames or heat
- Keeping flammable trash and shipping materials away from open flames or heating devices
- Establishing a fire safety plan
Q: What is a kitchen fire suppression system?
A: A fire suppression system is a range top extinguisher unit designed with nozzles equipped with a fire extinguishing agent aimed at specific hazard areas on your kitchen appliances. These systems are built with fire detection components to automatically extinguish fires without human intervention. Systems can differ based on the type of extinguishing agent, nozzle design, piping design and other features.
Q: What is the best agent for extinguishing a kitchen fire?
A: A busy commercial kitchen is prone to grease fires from high temperature cooking oils that are best combatted by wet chemical agents. Water is not an effective agent for putting out these grease fires, and will spread burning grease around the kitchen rather than put the fire out. Additionally, dry chemical agents are not as effective at combatting kitchen fires as wet chemical agents because they don’t smother the burning materials.
Q: What are the regulatory requirements for commercial kitchen suppression systems?
A: The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has the following requirements for commercial kitchen fire suppression systems:
- “At least semiannually, maintenance shall be conducted in accordance with the manufacturers listed manual.” (NFPA 17A 5-3.1.1)
- “Wet chemical fire extinguishing systems shall comply with standard UL 300.” (NFPA 17A 3-1.1)
- “All kitchens with a grease producing appliance must be protected with a Class K portable fire extinguisher.” (NFPA 10 PORTABLE CODES 6.2-4)
- “All kitchen fire suppression systems manufactured since 1994 must comply with the UL 300 standard to address today’s hotter, more insulated cooking systems.” (UL 300 Standard Fire Extinguisher Systems for Protection of Commercial Cooking Equipment)
Q: What happens during a kitchen fire suppression system inspection?
A: The Confires’ kitchen fire suppression system inspection process includes:
- Visual inspection of conduit and location of appliance, duct and plenum nozzles.
- Inspection of link line and position of detectors.
- Inspect the automatic actuation of the fire system by cutting a terminal test link.
- Test the remote pull station.
- Verify electric and gas shuts off when the system is activated.
- Replace fusible links and center link housings.
- Verify the gauge on pressurized tanks is at the proper level.
- Internal inspection of non-pressurized tanks for corrosion.
- Examine cylinders to record and verify the hydro test date.
- Examine the regulator to record and verify the test dates.
- Replace system cartridges when required by manufacturer. (For an additional charge)
- Remove and clean nozzles to insure they are not clogged. Replace nozzle caps.
- Test all electrical interlocks (Electric shut-offs and fan interlock requirements vary by the local authority having jurisdiction)
- Inspect the piping and copper tubing for tightness.
- Record any obvious deficiencies discovered during the inspection.
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