Contributors: Art Pfeiffer, Brian Harding, Chuck Rogers, Larry Edwards, Paul Holman, and Scott Jarvis of F.E. Moran Special Hazard Systems
Writer: Sarah Block, Marketing Director of The Moran Group
A recycling plant fire in Georgia that ignited in the winter of 2007 provides a chilling example of the importance of regularly maintained and inspected fire sprinklers. The fire broke out in a machinery room and rapidly spread throughout the plant, activating 75 sprinkler heads. It killed one civilian and caused $7.5 million in damages. After the investigation was complete, it was determined that the reason the fire sprinklers proved ineffective was because they were not maintained and had not been inspected according to the NFPA schedule. Maintenance deficiencies included improper sprinkler clearance, sprinkler risers modified to allow the use of garden-type hoses, and the valves were not fully opened. If the wet-pipe fire sprinkler had been inspected quarterly, as is the requirement according to NFPA, this tragedy would not have happened.
Causes of Water-Based Sprinkler Failure
Any facility type runs the same risk when their water-based sprinklers are not regularly inspected according to NFPA schedule requirements. Power generating plants, chemical processing plants, and heavy manufacturing plants often choose annual inspections because many fire protection systems are required to be inspected on an annual basis; however, water-based fire sprinklers are required to be inspected quarterly.
The top reasons for water-based sprinkler failure according to NFPA:
1. System was manually shut-off early.
2. Wrong type of system for hazard.
3. Water discharged, but the water did not reach the fire.
4. Lack of maintenance.
5. System components are damaged.
Four out of the five top causes for fire sprinkler failure would be addressed with regular inspections. When facilities change the type of hazard they house or renovate to accommodate an expanding or new business venture, fire sprinklers need to be taken into consideration. The changes to the facility may alter the fire sprinkler needs, and, if so, adjustments will need to be made to provide adequate protection to the new environment (2). For example, the sprinkler clearance (3) may need to be modified to accommodate facility changes. During quarterly inspections, issues two and three would be found and addressed before the problems cause a catastrophe. When a renovation is taking place, it is recommended to consult a fire protection contractor to ensure that the fire sprinklers are up to code with the building modifications
Lack of maintenance (4) and damaged system components (5) are also addressed during quarterly inspections. If the inspector found that maintenance was needed, it would be done promptly, leading to a safer building. Common maintenance problems found may be corroded sprinkler heads or painted sprinkler heads. Damaged system components can happen as easily as a forklift bumping a sprinkler head or a shuttered building’s wet-pipe sprinkler freezing and cracking the pipe. The damage often happens without anyone’s knowledge and goes unnoticed until an inspector finds the damage or a fire event happens.
Quarterly Inspection Requirements | NFPA
Quarterly Inspections Made Easy
Quarterly inspections may seem like a daunting task, but it can be quite easy with the right resources. Many fire sprinkler contractors provide inspection services or can recommend a company that can provide inspections at a reasonable cost. When a contractor is hired to provide inspections, facilities have the benefit of having a resource that will track the inspection schedule for the plant and make sure that fire protection systems are in peak working condition. Some high quality fire sprinkler contractors will provide inspection training for plant personnel to provide them the opportunity to inspect their own systems.
Benefits of Quarterly Inspections
Remaining up to date on quarterly inspections provides multiple benefits. More often than ever, the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) is enforcing quarterly water-based fire sprinkler inspections. Maintaining the NFPA schedule will ensure that fines are avoided.
Another benefit for quarterly inspections is insurance discounts. Many of the top insurers provide discounts to property owners based on the frequency of their inspections.
With regularly scheduled quarterly inspections, plants have the peace of mind in knowing that their fire protection system will be in top condition in the event of a fire. Protect people, plant, and production by maintaining plant fire protection equipment.