Seasonal Fire Protection

How to Prevent a Christmas Tree Fire + a Christmas Tree Burn Test

Christmas Tree Fire Safety.jpg

The NFSA recently completed a burn test, hosted by Assemblyman John Wisniewski.  He wanted to show the importance of handling Christmas trees effectively.  The U.S. averages 200 fires a year caused by Christmas trees.  

"This holiday season should be a time of joy, but each year preventable fires caused by Christmas trees and holiday decorations bring tragedy to families all across the country," said Wisniewski.  "However, there are simple steps everyone can take to prevent them."

According to the NFPA, this is what you should do when choosing a tree.

1.  Pick a fresh tree with green needles that do not fall off when touched.  You can also choose a fire resistant artificial tree. 

2.  Place the tree at least 3 feet away from a heat source such as a fireplace, stove, candle, radiator, or heating vent.  One in every four Christmas tree fires are from a heat source being too close to the tree, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

 Christmas present boxes

3.  Add water to the tree stand daily.

4.  Make sure the tree does not block an exit.

5.  Use lights that have been independently tested in a laboratory and approved for what you are using them for - indoor or outdoor lights.

6.  Turn off Christmas lights when you leave the house or go to bed.

7.  Get rid of the tree right after Christmas.  Dried out trees are a major fire danger.

The American Christmas Tree Association says that live Christmas trees cause $13 million in damage annually from fires.  So, if you choose to go with a live tree, be safe and take the proper precautions.

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3 Things to Do This Month to Improve Your Fire Protection System

3 Things to Do This Month to Improve Your Fire Protection System.jpg

Not too long ago, we had to take care of a completely preventable emergency.  What could have been the cost of a $5 door sweep cost $50,000.

The building was designed to have the fire pump room next to the drive through that went to resident parking.  The fire sprinkler contractor basically said, bad idea.  However, the builder moved forward with his plan.  He placed a door in the fire pump room that went to this outdoor area.  The door had a 1 inch gap. 

Can you see where I’m going with this?

One day, there was an unexpected cold spell.  The heat wasn’t on.  The fire pump room was set off, away from the rest of the building.  No one was aware of a problem until water started leaking through the door.

The cold air was coming in through the 1 inch gap in the door.  Everything froze.  All of the pipe in the fire pump room.  The 6 inch pipe was frozen solid.  The control valve could not be closed until the pipe thawed, so the water just kept flowing.

In the end, the backflow, fire pump, dry valve, and everything else needed to be replaced.

Not wanting to spend $5 or listen to the fire protection contractor led to a $50,000 bill.


What are 3 things you can do this month to protect your fire protection system?

1)     Inspect your gauges, control valves, dry pipe valves, and exterior pre-action valves. 

Valves must be accessible, open and close properly, be free of leaks and damage, and labeled.  Gauges need to be inspected to ensure they’re in good condition and that water pressure is maintained.

2)     Test electric motor-driven fire pumps.

Complete a 10 minute run & flow test.

3)     Inspect your pump systems

Inspect fire pumps to ensure they are working properly.


Check out a more detailed description of inspection needs at Hanover Insurance.

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Protecting Shopping Malls Against Fire: Could your mall have frozen pipes?

frozen fire sprinklers

Writer:  Sarah Block, Marketing Director at The Moran Group

Shopping malls go hand-in-hand with adaptation. The evolution of the mall began with Trajan's Market, built in Rome around 100-110 AD. The concept of the mall evolved from an open air market to the modern day, enclosed mall, first built in Edina, Minnesota in 1956. Shopping malls continue to change to adopt new retail ventures. It is this continuous change that provides a backdrop to hidden areas that may unknowingly be prone to freezing fire protection sprinkler pipes.

What are common fire hazards in malls?

Malls have a greater than average chance of fire due to the transient population. Each year, 1,710 fire events take place in the retail industry and 119 are caused by arson, according to the NFPA. Other issues that stem from the transient population, including short-term employees, are smoking within the building and unsafe storage of combustible and flammable materials.

Additional fire hazards are electrical malfunctions and the open flames, sparks, and hot surfaces, found in most restaurants. Large numbers of people, expensive property, and large stocks of merchandise rely on a full fire protection solution to keep them safe. Because of the menagerie of retail outlets and a diverse population, fire protection must also be kept at its peak performance.

Why does fire sprinkler piping freeze?

There are several causes for the freezing of fire sprinkler pipes throughout the life of the building. During the construction phase, wet-pipe sprinklers may be installed in the interior of the mall; however, heat is not yet circulating throughout the building. If the temperature drops to 40 degrees or below, wet-pipe sprinkler piping runs the risk of freezing.

In unheated areas, such as exterior areas, attics, or storage rooms, dry-pipe, pre-action, dry-pendent, or dry-sidewall sprinklers are typically installed by an expert fire protection service provider. However, if the sprinklers activate and are not adequately drained, the sitting water has the opportunity to freeze within the pipe.


What can happen if a pipe freezes?

If temperatures reach below 40 degrees, any water within a fire sprinkler pipe runs the risk of freezing according to NFPA 13, 13D, and 13R. The most common areas that freeze in fire sprinkler piping are short-runs of sprinkler piping, such as exterior walls and attic spaces. These pipes are often forgotten by property personnel when a sprinkler head activates and pipes need to be drained.

When water freezes, it increases in size by 10%. This is significant enough to increase the pressure to the point of bursting a pipe, fitting, or sprinkler and can cause the release of up to 30 gallons of water per minute. Each time a pipe bursts, it will typically cost a property owner $30,000+ per event.

If a fire event happens when the fire sprinkler piping has an ice block, it will inhibit water flow and the sprinkler head may not activate.

Leaks from frozen pipes typically appear when the pipes begin to thaw, so properties are more likely to experience a burst pipe in the early spring or on warm winter days. With the erratic winter weather in the Midwest, property owners need to be particularly pro-active about their fire protection inspection, testing, and maintenance, especially after a sprinkler activates.

How do we prevent fire sprinkler pipes from freezing?

The initial opportunity to prevent a pipe from bursting due to freezing water is to work with a fire protection service provider that is well aware of the risks of freezing weather on fire sprinkler piping. They will design a system that will mitigate the risks of burst pipes. Installing dry-pipe, pre-action, dry-pendant, or dry-sidewall sprinklers will ensure water is not in the pipes unless a fire sprinkler activates, reducing the likelihood of freezing pipes. If a sprinkler activates, call your fire protection contractor immediately to properly drain pipes of excess water.

Steps can be taken to prevent freezing pipes: 

1. Have employees stay alert and be aware of cold weather conditions. 
2. Check fire protection frequently during the winter months.
3. According to Bollinger Insurance, do not attempt do-it-yourself repairs on fire protection systems. Obtain the services of a trained professional.
4. During annual fire protection inspections, ask your contractor to test all valves.
5. Have personnel trained on how to shut down valves in the event of a burst pipe.

If an ice blockage is discovered, do not use an open flame or temporary heating equipment in an attempt to melt the ice. This will present an unnecessary fire risk.

Fire protection systems are essential to the safety of customers, employees, property, and merchandise in malls. 98% of sprinkler failure is due to human error. If a frozen pipe is discovered, contact your fire protection contractor to provide emergency maintenance and reduce the chances of a burst pipe causing $30,000 in damages or a fire sprinkler malfunction when you need it most.

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How Dormant Fire Sprinkler Water Costs Companies Millions

dormant water causes frozen fire sprinklers

Water lies dormant in a fire sprinkler after an activation. The weather turns cold and the water freezes and expands. It expands so much that tiny cracks form in the pipe. Spring rolls around and the floodgates open in your brand new lobby. Thousands of dollars in damage happen in the fifteen minutes it takes for the water supply to be turned off. If you don't think this can happen to you, see the examples below that happened in the last few years.

Burst Fire Sprinklers in the News

Example #1

In February 2015, around 500 students slept in an arena at the University of Buffalo when a frozen fire sprinkler pipe burst and caused a power outage. The frozen pipe began to melt, exposing hairline fractures, and the water dripped onto an electrical panel, shutting down the electricity and heat in the building. 

Example #2

Around the same time, a senior home fire protection system froze when an exterior wall's temperature got as low as 11 degrees. The pipe burst and poured 600 gallons of water onto the dining hall and 8 residential rooms. 

Example #3

In January 2015, an empty store at a Grand Rapids Mall didn't have heat, causing the fire sprinkler pipes to freeze. The pipe burst and triggered a water flow alarm. It seriously compromised the fire protection for three other businesses in the store as well. "Everybody's down, the whole suppression system is shut down, so everyone on the north end of the mall is without a sprinkler system," said Fire Chief Gregg Moore. When Moore arrived, water was pouring from the ceiling.

Example #4

In February, 2013, the cast of "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat" were rushed from a theater when frozen fire sprinkler pipes burst and flooded the interior area. The fire department got a call about an odor of smoke and fire sprinklers activating. When the crew arrived, they found a burst fire sprinkler pipe. It was discovered that the fire sprinkler pipe froze sometime during the previous week. 
"Then it just blew," said Torrington Fire Department Captain David Starr. "The water was flowing in and they (the cast members) had to get out of there quick. There's a little alley area between the two theaters and that's where the pipe is."


The Cause of Fire Sprinkler Failure

While fire sprinkler failure is rare, 87% of fires that ignite in sprinklered buildings are swiftly extinguished or contained, they do still happen. The top five reasons that fire sprinklers either did not operate or were ineffective were system shut off, inappropriate system for the type of fire, water discharge did not reach the fire, lack of maintenance, or problem with water supply/not enough water discharged. Of the five top reasons for fire sprinkler failure, four can be attributed to frozen fire sprinkler pipes.

How Do Fire Sprinkler Pipes Freeze?

Frozen fire sprinkler pipes can happen at any time during the life of a building. During construction, wet-pipe fire sprinklers can be installed during any phase of the construction; however, that does not necessarily mean that the heat is circulating through the building yet. If the fire sprinklers are installed in areas of the building not yet heated and the temperatures get below forty degrees, a pipe could freeze.
Another common issue that causes frozen fire sprinkler pipes is unheated areas, such as exterior areas, attics, or storage rooms that have dry-pipe, pre-action, dry-pendent, or dry sidewall sprinklers that have activated. If the fire sprinklers were not properly drained, the left over water could run the risk of freezing. 

When water freezes, it expands in the pipe by 10%. This can cause hairline fractures in the pipe. The fractures will go unnoticed until the next warm up. The ice will begin to melt and expose the fractures. Once this occurs, water will begin pouring from the pipe, potentially causing major damage to the property. On average, 30 gallons of water a minute will be released from a burst pipe.

The most common areas for fire sprinkler pipe freezes are short-runs of pipe that are generally found in exterior walls and attics. Because they are out of the way, they are often forgotten about when the fire sprinkler system needs drained. The typical cost of a pipe burst is at least $30,000 per event.

Another side effect of frozen pipes is inadequate water supply. If a fire ignited, and a portion of the pipe was blocked by ice, it would inhibit the water flow and the nearest sprinkler head may not activate. 

Prevent Frozen Fire Sprinkler Pipes

Your first opportunity to prevent frozen fire sprinklers is during the design phase. Choose a well-respected fire protection designer who knows how to design fire protection to mitigate the risks of frozen fire sprinklers. By installing dry-pipe, pre-action, dry-pendant, and dry-sidewall sprinklers, businesses will know that water is not sitting in the system unless the fire sprinkler activates. If the fire sprinkler does activate, property managers should immediately call their fire protection contractor to drain the pipes.

Once the fire protection is installed, you can take another step to prevent frozen fire sprinkler pipes. Take this five step action plan.

1) Assign an employee to be alert of weather warnings.
2) Assign someone to regularly check the fire protection during cold months.
3) Insurance companies recommend to always use a trained professional for fire protection services.
4) During annual fire protection inspections, have all valves tested by your contractor.
5) Choose a fire protection company that will train personnel on how to shut down valves in case of a burst pipe. 

Keep your property safe from unnecessary damage by taking the simple precautions needed to keep fire sprinkler pipes above freezing temperatures. All it takes is a simple mistake - not draining the pipe completely or leaving a window open - to cause tens of thousands of dollars in damages. 

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