Sprinkler safety

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Question: How can we determine if the sprinkler system in our building is operational?

Responding is Eric Wallenius, general manager, McDaniel Fire Systems, Valparaiso, IN.

If you have an occupied or unoccupied building and want to keep it safe, you should have a sprinkler system. The first thing you need to do is identify where the water service comes into your building. Typically, the water service can be found in your mechanical room or in a dedicated “sprinkler room.” If not, it may be located in a storage or warehouse area. In most cases, you will be able to find it just inside an exterior wall.

Next, you need to identify what type of system you have (e.g., a wet system/dry system/pre-action system). Do you have a fire pump, and is it turned on? This is best determined by a professional licensed company with competent people performing your inspection.

Once you have identified the type of system in your facility, the next step is to see if it is operational. The incoming valves should be in the open position, allowing the incoming water supply to be able to flow through the system. Typically, buildings will have an OS&Y valve – “outside stem and yoke.” If the stem is outside of the valve, it is in the open position and will allow water to flow. If you encounter a butterfly valve, look for an indicator to show you the open or closed position of the valve. If the flag is straight in line with the pipe, it is open. If the flag is going across the pipe, it is closed.

These valves should be accompanied by a tamper switch connected to a fire alarm control panel, and will emit a supervisory signal when in the off/normal position. (Note: Do not attempt to operate any valve that is connected to your fire alarm system without first notifying the system-monitoring company.)

A wet system has a water gauge on the riser that should read city pressure – 30 to 60 psi, depending on your area. No pressure on your gauge is an indication that your incoming water supply may be turned off; this needs to be addressed immediately. If you have a fire pump, the pressures will be much higher, usually in excess of 80 psi, and you need to verify that the fire pump controller is on.

As you walk around your facility, look for broken, corroded or damaged sprinkler heads; missing or broken valve handles on inspector tests; and broken or missing main drains and pipe hangers. Make sure you have at least 18 inches of clearance underneath sprinkler heads to prevent items from affecting the head’s spray pattern.

Checking sprinkler heads for paint or other materials that could inhibit the head from fusing is a must. Coverage of the sprinkler head – do you need quick-response heads or standard-response heads? – is determined by the type of facility you have. All heads should be the same type in an area to ensure equal response time.

These are indications that your system should be in an operational state; however, there are variables involved in certifying that a system is in working condition. It is best to use licensed professionals. All of these things need to be checked regularly, while keeping a record of inspections by a licensed contractor specializing in fire protection.

Editor's Note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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