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Building Fire Protection

John DeLaHunt, MBA, ARMAbout John DeLaHunt, MBA, ARM
John DeLaHunt has been managing health and safety at college and university campuses since 1989. Currently, he is the Risk and Life Safety Manager for The University of Texas at San Antonio.

Author(s): John DeLaHunt, MBA, ARM - University of Texas at San Antonio

This chapter is current as of March 11, 2014

Introduction


Most colleges, universities, and other institutions represent sizable investments by either private organizations or public entities. In either case, the sheer value of property at risk warrants a significant consideration of fire protection issues. Even more important is concern for the safety of the lives of people who are in the work, study, and living environments operated by institutions. Other compelling reasons for facilities managers to manage their fire risks include interruption of services because of fire, cost to restore facilities to original service condition, and risk to reputation that is associated with catastrophic loss of life or property.

This chapter will briefly discuss the process and tools involved with managing fire risk at an institution. Of major importance will be the many references to other documents, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) consensus standards. These documents provide in-depth and current information regarding specific subject areas.

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Fire Risk


Modern buildings have the benefit of centuries of experience to make them less prone to partial or total loss to fire. Modern design techniques and construction materials substantially reduce the risk of injury or death from fires. However, as long as oxygen, fuel, and heat exist in close proximity, the risk of loss to fire follows closely. Facilities managers cannot ignore the potential for loss of life but must also consider the cost of replacement, repairs, restoration, lost revenue due to outage, and damage to reputation. Collectively, these costs represent the severity of fire risk.

Managing Fire Risk

In the current institutional setting, the manager of a facility must be able to understand the concepts associated with fire risk. Fire risk and fire hazard are different concepts; they are not interchangeable terms. Fire risk is the expected loss from a fire of a given severity, whereas fire hazard is a condition or set of conditions that could lead to the start or spread of a fire. For example, the probability of a fire in a given environment might be high, but because of the presence of a sprinkler system, the consequence of a fire might be quite low, resulting in a low risk overall. Describing fire risk, or any class of risk, therefore carries with it the need to describe both the frequency and the severity of the event.

For a fire risk management program to succeed, facilities managers must identify potential losses and measure (or even estimate) their impact and must do so in a comprehensive way. This activity requires assessment of the probability of fire losses at the facility, which, over a certain time period, allows an assessment of frequency. Once the manager has determined frequency and severity of any given fire loss, cost-benefit analysis can be used to determine which risk reduction methods are cost-effective. Because the impact of fire goes far beyond life and property, comprehensive fire risk assessment includes indirect costs such as cleanup, cost of providing alternative locations for the services disrupted, and so on. Some impacts, such as negative public reactions, cannot be expressed in dollars. Comprehensive fire risk assessment includes these intangible impacts because executives need to consider all ramifications of mitigating losses due to fire.

Comprehensive fire risk assessment and management establish an optimum balance among prevention, protection, and emergency response from within the plant. Including local emergency response personnel in the conversation helps quantify the risk; many fire departments have limits on the resources they can quickly muster to a fire. Implementation of fire risk mitigation strategies after the assessment will prevent some losses outright and will reduce the frequency and severity of others. A fire risk management plan that covers not only installation of fire protection devices but also their maintenance, inspection, testing, and eventual replacement will create confidence in these systems and deliver tangible evidence of compliance with applicable standards and codes.

Chemistry of Fire

Fire is a chemical reaction in which a reducing agent (fuel) and oxidizing agent (usually atmospheric oxygen) react to release heat. Although fire is a very complicated chemical reaction (nearly impossible to study on a molecular level), fire prevention professionals generally describe the components of fire as a triangle, with sides of fuel, oxygen, and heat. If any of these three is absent, the fire cannot start. If any of these is removed, the fire collapses and cannot continue.

Fire has three primary components: the reaction itself (the fire), the ionized gases produced by the reaction (flame), and the airborne byproducts (smoke). Each of these has its own capacity to affect life and property, and facilities managers must understand that fire protection systems can sense and/or control these different components.

The chemistry supporting halocarbon suppression systems, such as halon, is the chemical chain reaction. Some inert agents, such as halon, interrupt this chain reaction and prevent the fire from spreading. Because this action differs substantially from traditional fire triangle suppression methods, fire prevention professionals often refer to a “fire tetrahedron” when discussing the full range of fire protection methods, including halocarbon-based suppression systems.

For most fuels, the liquid or solid portion of the fuel does not burn. Instead, the vapors in the fuel ignite and propagate the flame. Often, fire's own heat is sufficient to drive more flammable gases and vapors out of a fuel. Smothering the fire, cooling it, or excluding the oxygen usually suffices for extinguishment. However, some metals (for example, sodium, potassium, lithium, calcium, and magnesium) burn without vaporizing. In these cases, conventional means of extinguishment will not work and will often exacerbate the fire.

Types of Fire

Fire prevention engineers differentiate fire type by the hazards of the fuel. Extinguishing agents and methods do not always work on every fire, and some agents and methods can dramatically aggravate fire conditions, creating substantially more risk. Currently, the fire service considers five classes of fires.

Two basic fuels for fire are solids and liquids. Solids include paper, cardboard, wood, cloth, plastic, skin, and hair. Liquids include oils and solvents. Fire prevention professionals call these Class A and Class B, respectively.

Sparks from electrical equipment can cause Class A and Class B fires, but safety in extinguishing these fires depends entirely on the electrical hazard. As a result, electrical fires have a class of their own, Class C.

Flammable metals represent the fourth class of fire, Class D. This class recognizes that the extinguishing methods for flammable metal fires are substantially different than those for Class A, B, and C fires.

Finally, changes in the working temperature of cooking oils have resulted in a new class of fire, Class K, for commercial kitchens with high-temperature grease, oil, or fat (or more than one of these). Even though the fuel in this case is a liquid (and thus closely aligned in chemistry with a Class B fire), the extinguishment methods are different. Use of a dry chemical extinguisher on a fire in a modern, well-insulated fryer with a large volume of hot oil will extinguish the flame. However, dry chemical powder does not cool the oil, so the oil may reignite. The Class K agent extinguishes the flame and cools the oil, preventing reflash.

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Fire Prevention and Protection


Fire prevention is the most expedient means of managing fire risk. When losses do not occur, their cost is obviously low. Preventing fires takes investment and, depending on the kind of fire prevention or protection measure, that investment can be large.

Active Versus Passive

Fire prevention and protection measures vary greatly. The primary means to prevent or reduce fire losses include active systems, which react to the presence or threat of fire with a conditioned response, and passive systems, which provide a level of threat mitigation at all times. Examples of active fire prevention and protection measures include fire sprinklers, fire alarms, portable fire extinguishers, and facility inspections. Examples of passive fire prevention and protection measures include adequate egress for evacuation of occupants, fire-resistive construction, and flammable liquid storage cabinets.

Despite their nature, passive fire prevention and protection measures require maintenance. If the occupants block means of egress or do not store flammable liquids appropriately, these passive measures will fail. Similarly, active systems require routine inspection and maintenance.

Manual Versus Automatic

Just as fire prevention and protection activities can be passive or active, they also can be either automatic or manual. A manual active fire protection activity is the use of a portable fire extinguisher to attack an incipient-stage fire. Automatic fire protection activities include fire sprinklers, fire suppression systems, and fire separation barriers.

Manual fire prevention and protection activities require frequent oversight. For example, employees need training on housekeeping and fuel storage requirements, and extinguishers need inspection. Similarly, automatic fire prevention and protection activities often are systems that require inspection and maintenance. Even passive fire prevention and protection systems, such as fire separation barriers, require attention to ensure that they still function as designed and required. Renovations can compromise these barriers, as can occupant actions — such as propping open required fire doors.

Regardless of the type of fire prevention and protection measures, facilities managers must understand each of them, maintain them, and support their implementation where such implementation makes good business sense from a risk control perspective. For instance, automatic sprinkler systems provide substantial protection for property, but installing a sprinkler just to protect a structure with a replacement value lower than the installation cost of the sprinkler might not make sense. Similarly, facilities managers must balance all the other needs of the facility or institution before they implement a fire prevention and protection measure. Installing fire alarm systems, for instance, might be a better use of a facilities manager's time and effort than investing in an expensive or onerous training requirement that occupants soon allow to languish.

Fire Prevention Programs

Fire prevention programs are active manual measures to prevent fires and protect property. Such programs often include awareness and outreach programs. A variety of facilities and organizations should sponsor, conduct, or assist in these programs to ensure maximum coverage in all areas. The basic concept should be to increase the awareness of the public through its involvement in the fire prevention programs.

Many fire prevention educational efforts will benefit students and employees when they are at home. Because employees are at home for many more hours than they are at work, their exposure to fire is greater at home. For this reason, along with the economic considerations involved in replacing skilled employees who can be injured in home fires, it is cost-effective for an organization to devote some time to home fire safety in the employee fire safety subject matter.

Monthly or quarterly campaigns draw attention to specific fire hazards, with a different type of hazard as the focal point each month or quarter. Certain subjects lend themselves to some months more readily than others.

Codes mandate some fire prevention activities, but many others have developed over time simply through experience. Higher education institutions in the United States that receive federal tuition grant and loan dollars must document fire prevention and protection programs in on-campus student housing. Comprehensive fire prevention and protection programs occur throughout the institution and routinely during the year.

During certain seasons, fire prevention programs can emphasize the hazards that are particular to that time of year. Fire prevention organizations often have special posters, spot announcements, films, and handouts available for each of these periods. Some of the special subjects for seasonal campaigns include the following:

  • Spring and fall (cleanup campaigns)
  • Cold weather (heating appliances, electric blankets)
  • Hot weather (air conditioning, fans)
  • Summer (campfires, barbecues, fireworks)
  • Holiday season (trees, decorations)
  • September (Higher Education Fire Safety month)
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Fire Codes


Nationwide, municipalities, counties, states, and the federal government apply building and fire codes to govern new construction, renovation, and fire safety. One or more government agencies hold the power to determine which codes apply and how. In terms of the fire code, the agency with this responsibility is known as the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). The AHJ is primarily responsible for identifying which codes prevail, modifying those codes, and ensuring that local businesses conform to them.

History of Codes

Major fires in early American cities inspired many of the building and fire codes. Fires such as the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 caused insurance companies to charge extraordinarily high rates for fire insurance. Then, despite high premium income, the insurance industry still suffered great losses when fires spread out of control.

In 1866, insurance companies formed the National Board of Fire Underwriters to prevent continued construction of unsafe structures. By setting standards for building construction and fire protection, then rewarding those complying customers that they insured with lower premiums, insurance companies could reduce loss for both the insured and the insurer. The National Board of Fire Underwriters emphasized safe building construction, control of fire hazards, and improvement in water supplies and fire departments. In 1905, the organization published the first recommended building code, which became the National Building Code. Over the years, this organization compiled and analyzed information collected from fire incidents. With better and more complete information, the National Board of FIre Underwriters could continue to update codes to decrease catastrophic fire losses in America.

Building Codes

A building code is a set of standards that describes minimum requirements for design and construction of buildings and structures. These standards protect the health and safety of the building occupants, the general public, and the building owners. Code requirements often establish how the builder and building owner will address structural design, fire protection, means of egress, light, sanitation, and interior finishes.

Building codes generally occur in one of two types. Specification codes dictate to owners, architects, engineers, and contractors what materials they can use in building design and construction. Performance codes establish objectives and leave the methods and materials to the designer and builder. Performance codes have inherent flexibility but often require strict testing to ensure the construction meets objectives. Specification codes leave little to the imagination but require less testing and certification.

Recent building codes have focused on the minimum requirements for structural stability, fire resistance, means of egress, sanitation, lighting, ventilation, and built-in fire safety equipment. Several building codes organizations have published their versions of a building code. Several of the more well-known and national building code organizations are listed in this section.

International Code Council (ICC). ICC publishes the International Building Code and International Fire Code. ICC is the product of a 1994 merger between the International Conference of Building Officials (ICBO), the Southern Building Code Congress International (SBCCI), and the Building Officers and Code Administration (BOCA). For decades, ICBO published the Uniform Codes; SBCCI published the Standard Codes; and BOCA published the National Codes. Regional differences had created these different approaches to standard setting, but increasing the national scope of construction led to the 1994 merger.

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). NFPA plays a major role in the development of all major building codes. NFPA first established the Life Safety Code as the Building Exits Code in 1927. This code establishes minimum requirements for providing a reasonable degree of safety for occupants of buildings and structures. NFPA codes and standards address the construction, protection, and occupancy features necessary to minimize danger to life from smoke, fumes, and panic. The ICC codes adopt many NFPA codes and standards by reference, as do many state and local codes.

Despite the merger of ICBO, SBCCI, and BOCA, some AHJs continue to enforce uniform, standard, or national code, so-called legacy codes. NFPA produces a model building code, NFPA 5000, which few AHJs have adopted.

Building Classifications

Fire protection codes and insurance programs classify structures related to fire resistance as a quick means of determining fire protection requirements and premiums. The structure's construction materials provide the basis for its classification. In the early years of codes, the only classifications were fireproof and non-fireproof. Experience showed that no material or building was totally fireproof; in combination, all of the materials that make up the building and the contents and furnishings contribute to the severity of the fire. Optimum fire-resistive design, balanced against the anticipated fire severity, is the objective of the structural fire protection requirements of modern fire codes. NFPA 220, Standard on Types of Building Construction, provides classifications for buildings and structures based on building components and contents. Table 1 outlines the classifications of construction types from NFPA 220 and indicates the International Building Code (IBC) equivalents.

Table 1. Classifications of Construction Types, NFPA 220 (2009)

Classification Construction Minimum Fire Separation Ratings (hours) IBC
Equivalent
Exterior Bearing Members Floor-Ceiling Assemblies
TYPE I 442 Noncombustible 4 4 2 -
332 Noncombustible 3 3 2 IA
TYPE II 222 Noncombustible 2 2 2 IB
111 Noncombustible 1 1 1 IIA
000 Noncombustible 0 0 0 IIB
TYPE III 222 Mixed 2 2 2 IIIA
200 Mixed 2 0 0 IIIB
TYPE IV 2HH Mixed 2 H H IVA
TYPE V 111 Combustible 1 1 1 VA
000 Combustible 0 0 0 VB

H: heavy timber construction
Noncombustible includes materials of limited combustibility.

Fire Prevention Codes

NFPA publishes more than 300 codes, standards, recommended practices, manuals, guides, and model laws. The complete collection of these documents, which addresses fire prevention and protection, is the NFPA National Fire Codes. Several notable codes and standards within that body of work have gained international acceptance. Among these are NFPA 70, National Electrical Code; NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code; NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code; and NFPA 1, Fire Code.

Life Safety Code

The Life Safety Code (NFPA 101) addresses factors of design and operation that affect safe egress from a building or structure. This code does not itself contain any measures for the protection of property or building safety requirements, although it does make reference to such standards from the NFPA National Fire Codes catalogue. The 12 principles that form the basis of the Life Safety Code are as follows:

  1. Occupants have access to a sufficient number of unobstructed exits of adequate capacity and arrangement.
  2. The means of egress has protection against fire, heat, and smoke for the time necessary for the occupants to leave the building.
  3. An alternate means of egress exists in the event that fire, smoke, or other hazard blocks one of the exits.
  4. Compartmentalizing the building with adequate fire barriers creates areas of refuge where evacuation is not the primary means of providing occupant safety.
  5. Protection of vertical openings limits the movement of fire and smoke to multiple floors.
  6. Fire detection systems, alarm systems, or both alert occupants and, in some cases, notify the fire department of a fire condition.
  7. Each means of egress has adequate illumination.
  8. Signs indicate the path of travel to reach the exits.
  9. Adequate protection exists to address unusual hazards that could impinge on the means of egress.
  10. The structure has adequate evacuation plans and exit drills.
  11. Adequate instructions to occupants facilitate their effective movement, particularly where crowding or severe fire hazards exist.
  12. Interior finish materials reduce fast-spreading fires and dense smoke production that could endanger occupants.
Other Prevalent NFPA Codes

The IBC, International Fire Code, NFPA 1, and NFPA 101 incorporate many other NFPA codes and standards by reference. Understanding which of these codes and standards applies and how to meet the relevant expectations is vital to facilities managers' efforts to reduce loss to fire.

  • NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers
  • NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems
  • NFPA 14, Standard for the Installation of Standpipes and Hose Systems
  • NFPA 17, Standard for Dry Chemical Extinguishing Systems
  • NFPA 17A, Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing Systems
  • NFPA 20, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection
  • NFPA 24, Standard for the Installation of Private Fire Service Mains and Their Appurtenances
  • NFPA 25, Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems
  • NFPA 30, Flammable and Combustible Liquids Code
  • NFPA 30A, Code for Motor Fuel Dispensing Facilities and Repair Garages
  • NFPA 45, Standard on Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals
  • NFPA 54, National Fuel Gas Code
  • NFPA 58, Liquefied Petroleum Gas Code
  • NFPA 70, National Electrical Code®
  • NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code®
  • NFPA 90A, Standard for the Installation of Air-Conditioning and Ventilating Systems
  • NFPA 291, Recommended Practice for Fire Flow Testing and Marking of Hydrants
  • NFPA 2001, Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems

Occupancy Classifications

NFPA and building codes make a distinction between uses of buildings and parts of buildings. The Life Safety Code differentiates by type of use (occupancy type) and hazard of contents (low, medium, and high). Occupancy and hazard often drive substantial differences in fire protection requirements in the Life Safety Code and associated system codes and standards. Table 2 lists NFPA occupancy types and gives some examples of these uses.

Table 2. NFPA Occupancy Types with Examples

NFPA Occupancy Examples
Assembly Classrooms, ballrooms, event centers, sports arenas
Educational Kindergarten through twelfth grade
Day Care Children's centers
Health Care Hospitals
Ambulatory Health Care Student health centers
Detention and Correction Police operations centers
Residential Residence halls, student organization housing, apartments, married student housing, single-family housing
Mercantile Retail outlets, bookstores
Industrial Machine shops, auto shops, central energy plants
Business Classrooms, administrative offices, laboratories, studios
Storage Warehouses

The Life Safety Code differentiates between occupancy types for several purposes. Requirements in system codes, such as those for fire alarms and fire sprinklers, vary by occupancy. NFPA 1, Uniform Fire Code, sets out different operational requirements based on occupancy.

NFPA codes often differentiate between the occupancy classification of the structure and of suboccupancies that exist in that structure. An administrative building with some classrooms, for instance, might be a business occupancy with assembly suboccupancies. System design, management, and building operation will have to take these differences into account.

Hazard Classifications

NFPA codes distinguish between hazards of occupancy based on quantity and combustibility of contents, physical and health hazards of the contents, and flame spread potential (the speed with which flames propagate across a material). Most fire codes differentiate among different levels of hazard in occupancies, and these differences often drive requirements for fire protection systems. Facilities managers must review each code, as interpreted by the local AHJ, to see how it treats the current or proposed use of the space. Fire sprinkler codes, especially, differentiate on hazard of occupancy.

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Fire Suppression


Following construction, buildings and occupants will rely on fire suppression to further reduce fire hazard. Fire suppression systems can be manual or automatic, and each system serves in a different specific fire hazard mitigation role. The portable fire extinguisher is the principal manual suppression system found in modern buildings, but the fire hose remains available in some building occupancies. Fixed suppression systems — such as sprinklers, inert agent (clean agent) systems, and water-based systems — provide automatic protection and code relief. Sprinkler systems have a clear track record of success in protecting life and property, and they are becoming mandatory for new construction.

All fire suppression systems require specialized training and, in most cases, licensing for installation, inspection, and maintenance. The consequences of a failure to maintain and protect fire suppression systems include property damage, loss of life, loss of use of space, code noncompliance, public findings of negligence, and damage to the institution's reputation. The installation of fire suppression systems is a vital means to prevent loss of life and damage to property, but facilities managers must dedicate resources to their maintenance and inspection.

The selection and installation of fire suppression systems depend entirely on the type of fire risk in the facility. The installation of a water-based sprinkler system in a commercial kitchen exposure, for instance, creates a greater hazard than the one it mitigates; during a fire, water from the sprinkler system will boil, perhaps explosively, and spread burning oil throughout the affected area. Facilities managers must therefore select suppression systems to address the type of fire they expect to see in a facility and must ensure that fire suppression agent selection keeps pace with actual use of the occupancy. Table 3 summarizes types of fuels and fires, with examples and means of extinguishment.

Table 3. Types of Fuels and Fires

Fire Classification Fuel/Ignition Type Examples Extinguishment
A Combustible solids Wood, paper, cardboard, plastic, skin, hair, clothing Water
Dry chemical
B Flammable/combustible liquids Oil, gasoline, kerosene, solvents Dry chemical
Foam
C Electrical sources Sparking equipment or services Dry chemical
Inert agent
D Metals Lithium, sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium Sodium chloride
K Commercial kitchen Oils and greases Wet chemical

 

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Fire Extinguishers


Portable fire extinguishers are nearly ubiquitous in commercial occupancies, in residences, and on vehicles. The portable fire extinguisher provides the means to attack an incipient (early stage) fire, reducing its spread or extinguishing it entirely. Often, occupants using fire extinguishers can control small fires in much less time than required for a building fire hose line response — and certainly faster than local fire service response.

Facilities managers must understand the different types of portable fire extinguishers in addition to their placement, inspection, maintenance, and use. Facilities managers must select and place extinguishing equipment as required for occupancy and fire hazard risk. Furthermore, occupants must be able to access extinguishers quickly and easily to respond to fires, if necessary. The International Fire Code and the Life Safety Code both require selection and placement of portable fire extinguishers in accordance with NFPA 10, Standard for Portable Fire Extinguishers. NFPA 10 requires that fire extinguishers have listings and labeling from either Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) or Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (ULC).

Extinguisher Rating System

Portable fire extinguishers have ratings based on their capacity to respond to each of the five classes of fire (A, B, C, D, and K). Furthermore, Class A and Class B extinguishers receive a numerical rating. Tests conducted by UL, ULC, or both determine the numerical rating of each type and capacity of extinguisher.

Class A Rating. Class A portable fire extinguishers have ratings from 1A through 40A, depending on their size. The 1A rating requires the equivalent of ¼ gallon (5 liters) of water. The 2A rating requires 2½ gallons (10 liters), or twice the 1A capacity. Therefore, a dry chemical extinguisher rated 10A is equivalent to five 2½-gallon (10-liter) water extinguishers.

Class B Rating. Extinguishers suitable for use on Class B fires have numerical ratings ranging from 1B through 640B. The test that UL uses to determine the rating of Class B extinguishers consists of burning a flammable liquid similar to gasoline in square steel pans. The approximate area of a flammable liquid fire that a nonexpert operator can extinguish determines the rating of the extinguisher. Extinguishers manufactured and tested for use in the United States measure this area in square feet, but extinguishers manufactured and tested for use elsewhere may rely on other units of measurement for area.

Class C Rating. Because Class C fires are essentially Class A or Class B fires involving energized electrical equipment, extinguishers for use on Class C fires receive only the letter rating. In this case, the Class C designation merely confirms that the extinguishing agent is nonconductive and will pose less of a hazard to the user. In assigning a Class C designation, testing laboratories test only the extinguishing agent for electrical nonconductivity. If the agent meets the test requirements, the extinguisher gets a Class C rating in conjunction with the rating for Class A fires, Class B fires, or both.

Class D Rating. Similarly, Class D extinguishers do not have a numerical rating of extinguishment capacity. Test fires for establishing Class D ratings vary with the type of combustible metal under test. As a result, the faceplate of the extinguisher describes its effectiveness on the various flammable metals. Code prohibits multipurpose ratings for Class D agents.

Class K Rating. Because Class K extinguishers can extinguish Class A and Class B fires, they carry numerical ratings for these types of fire risks in addition to a simple letter designation indicating their capacity to respond to commercial kitchen fires.

Extinguishers that are effective on more than one class of fire have ratings with multiple letters or with both numerals and letters.

How Fire Extinguishers Work

All portable fire extinguishers operate on the same basic principle. Upon activation of a valve, expellant gas under pressure forces a charge of agent (solid, liquid, or gas) out a siphon hose, through the valve, and to a nozzle. All portable fire extinguishers have some standard equipment:

  • Storage vessel, which keeps the agent and the expellant gas contained until use
  • Handle, which allows operators to safely carry the extinguisher
  • Safety pin, which keeps the activation valve closed until the operator pulls the pin
  • Operating lever, which allows the operator to activate the flow of agent
  • Siphon hose, which allows the operator to aim the agent
  • Discharge nozzle, which ensures the extinguishment agent disperses correctly.

All extinguishers, except some inert agent extinguishers such as carbon dioxide, also have pressure gauges to indicate readiness for operation.

Types of Portable Fire Extinguishers

Many different types of portable fire extinguishers are available, each designed to mitigate a specific fire risk, as indicated in Table 4. Understanding the variety of choices in portable fire extinguishing equipment is essential to proper selection and placement.

Table 4. Types of Portable Fire Extinguishers

Type Agent Expellant Gas (psi) Effective Classes Discharge Time (seconds) Restrictions Notes
Dry chemical Ammonium phosphate
Potassium bicarbonate
Sodium bicarbonate
Nitrogen (~100) A, B, C 15-25 None  
Carbon dioxide Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide

(~2,200)

B, C 8-30 None High-pressure cylinder delivering cryogenic temperatures
Stored-pressure water Water Air (~100) A 30-60 Keep from freezing  
Aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) Foam Nitrogen (~100) A, B 50-100 Keep from freezing Other existing foams for specialty applications
Halon Halon
(1211 or 1211-1301 blend)
Nitrogen (~100) C 8-30 None No longer manufactured
Wet chemical Potassium acetate
Potassium carbonate
Nitrogen (~100) K, B 30-60 None  
Metal Sodium chloride
Silica
Nitrogen (~100) D 15-45 None  
 
Selection and Placement of Fire Extinguishers

Selection of the proper portable fire extinguisher depends on numerous factors, including the following:

  • Hazards to be protected
  • Severity of the fire
  • Atmospheric conditions
  • Personnel available
  • Ease of handling the extinguisher
  • Any site-specific life hazard or operational concerns.

Where code requires the installation of extinguishers, hazards that extinguishers will protect against must include Class A fires. Furthermore, extinguishers must address Class B, C, D, and K fire hazards if those are present.

The severity of fire risk generally depends on the type of operation in the occupancy and the quantity of flammable liquids or other hazards that are present.

The ease of handling extinguishers is a vital component of extinguisher selection and placement. If the facilities manager selects extinguishers that are too large or cumbersome for the occupants to use, the extinguishers cannot provide protection. On the other hand, code requires a certain minimum capacity for protection (either 2A or 4A), depending on the hazard. Facilities managers have to balance the hazard in the occupancy with the required capacities for extinguishers and must include the capability of occupants to use the extinguisher in that calculation.

Fire extinguisher selection should include an assessment of what might occur to the fire or the user. For instance, in a large high-voltage electrical room, the placement of a stored-pressure water extinguisher might lead to its use, potentially with disastrous results. Similarly, placing a carbon dioxide extinguisher in a printing shop where the likely sources of fire are ordinary combustible materials could exacerbate fire risk. Placing a dry chemical extinguisher in an optical instrumentation laboratory or computer machine room could result in severe collateral damage to equipment that far exceeds what would have occurred with the correct extinguisher.

Using Portable Fire Extinguishers

Facilities managers should understand why the organization has required the placement of portable fire extinguishers in a particular occupancy. Perhaps code requires it (as for business occupancies under the NFPA Life Safety Code) or perhaps the organization's insurance company requires it for property protection. If the organization has employees with a job requirement to respond to fires and other emergencies, safety regulations may require specific training and equipment as well as written programs and plans.

Regardless, if the employer expects employees or occupants to use extinguishers to protect life or property, the responsibility for training lies with the employer. Some organizations might elect to rely on automatic fire suppression systems to save property or to allow unprotected property to burn rather than engage employees in fire control duties. Other organizations might create fire brigades and have a complete fire response capability. The middle ground includes training employees to use extinguishers and stating that fire control is a strictly voluntary assignment. Facilities managers have to balance the expectations of employees, regulators, and insurance providers.

Employees should receive training in types of fire, types of extinguishers, when not to use certain types of extinguishers, how to use an extinguisher, and what to do if the fire does not respond. Simply reminding employees that the facility has extinguishers installed will not create the confidence necessary for employees to use extinguishers to save life and property.

Portable extinguishers come in many shapes, sizes, and types. Although the operating procedures of each type of extinguisher are similar, operators should become familiar with the detailed instructions on the label of the extinguisher. In an emergency, every second is of great importance; therefore, everyone should be acquainted with the following general instructions applicable to most portable fire extinguishers. Remember the pull, aim, squeeze, and sweep (PASS) reminder:

Pull the pin at the top of the extinguisher that prevents accidental discharge. Break the plastic tamper inspection band by twisting the pin.

Aim the nozzle toward the fire. Some hose assemblies have clips holding the hose to the extinguisher body. Unclip the hose and point.

Squeeze the handle above the carrying handle to discharge the agent. Stop the discharge at any time by releasing the handle. Before approaching the fire, try a short test burst to ensure proper operation.

Sweep the nozzle back and forth at the base of the flames to disperse the extinguishing agent. After the fire is out, watch for remaining smoldering hot spots or a possible reflash of flammable liquids. Make sure that the fire is out before leaving the scene.

Advanced live-fire training tools for fire extinguishers are available for purchase. These tools are expensive but create a realistic firefighting scenario that gives trainees valuable experience. As with any other device, these tools need maintenance and care but represent a substantial investment in improved capacity for fire response.

Most municipalities have a requirement to notify the AHJ whenever an uncontrolled fire occurs. In addition, facilities managers should ensure that the maintenance unit responsible for extinguisher inspection and maintenance receives notification of the use of a fire extinguisher. This notification will enable placement of spare extinguishers as necessary during recharge or replacement of extinguishers used in the response.

Inspection and Maintenance of Fire Extinguishers

Code requires that fire extinguishers receive regular inspections to ensure that they are accessible and ready for operation. Code requires that basic inspections occur monthly and that extinguishers receive maintenance service annually. Monthly inspections ensure that the extinguisher remains in its designated location, no one has tampered with or activated it, it is undamaged, and nothing prevents it from being available for use. Monthly inspections are the responsibility of the property owner, the building occupant, or both.

Every fire extinguisher inspection should include the followings steps:

  • Check to ensure that the extinguisher is in a proper location and that it is accessible.
  • Inspect the discharge nozzle or horn for obstructions. Check for cracks and for dirt or grease accumulation.
  • Check to see whether the operating instructions on the extinguisher faceplate are legible.
  • Check the lock pins and tamper seals to ensure that no one has compromised or used the extinguisher since last inspection.
  • Determine whether the extinguisher is full of agent and fully pressurized by checking the pressure gauge, weighing the extinguisher, and inspecting the agent level. If an extinguisher's weight is low by 10 percent of the charge, remove it from service and replace it.
  • Check the inspection tag for the dates of any previous inspections, maintenance, and recharges.
  • Examine the condition of the hose and its associated fittings. If any damage has occurred to any part of the extinguisher, remove the extinguisher from service and repair it as required. Replace the extinguisher with one that has an equal or greater rating.

All maintenance procedures should include a thorough examination of the three basic parts of an extinguisher: mechanical parts, extinguishing agents, and expelling means. Building owners should keep accurate and complete records of all maintenance and inspections, including the month, year, type of maintenance, and date of the last recharge. Maintaining these data in a computer database is an easy way to stay current and keep the records required by various codes. Software for cataloging fire and safety equipment and for charting its maintenance is commercially available.

Code requires that fire extinguishers have a thorough inspection once a year. Such an inspection provides maximum assurance that the extinguisher will operate effectively and safely. A thorough examination of the extinguisher determines whether any repairs are necessary or whether the extinguisher is due for outright replacement.

Stored-pressure extinguishers containing a loaded stream agent require disassembly for complete maintenance. Before disassembly, the technician should discharge the extinguisher to check the operation of the discharge valve and pressure gauge.

Under Department of Transportation regulations, stored-pressure extinguishers require a 12-year hydrostatic test. This test usually includes all the required maintenance of a six-year test and recharge. Extinguishers that have nonrefillable disposable containers are exempt.

All carbon dioxide hose assemblies should undergo a conductivity test. Hoses must be conductive because they act as bonding devices to prevent the generation of static electricity. Replacing nonconductive hoses reduces the chance of electric shock and additional spark sources.

Because fire extinguishers have life-long maintenance requirements and therefore costs, facilities managers should carefully consider whether fire extinguishers are an important part of the overall fire risk management plan for the campus.  For instance, the NFPA Life Safety Code does not require fire extinguishers in dormitories. Installing extinguishers in these locations requires an investment in their maintenance and upkeep. The campus fire risk management plan should include the opportunity cost of such installations — the institution could invest these resources in other programs for higher return. 

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Fire Sprinkler Systems


Automatic Sprinkler Systems

Automatic sprinklers have been providing fire protection to business and industry for more than 100 years. Initially, automatic sprinklers protected industrial buildings. Early sprinkler systems were crude and unreliable. The evolution in sprinkler technology has created quite effective and reliable systems, but proper installation and maintenance are essential. Almost every type of occupancy has sprinklers, from factories to residences. Fire protection engineers consider automatic sprinklers to be the most useful and reliable method of providing fire protection.

Fires affecting large properties pose a threat to the entire community and overtax firefighting resources. Building owners often invest in and install automatic sprinklers because of code requirements, for insurance purposes, and for general fire protection.

Building and fire codes frequently require installation of automatic sprinklers, usually as a result of the need to protect the community as a whole or the occupants in individual buildings (e.g., schools, nursing homes, high-rise buildings, apartments, and residential dwellings). Local codes require the installation of automatic sprinklers in buildings based on their occupancy, construction type, and size. Typically, when a building exceeds a given area limitation (established in a building code), it must have sprinklers.

Although reliable, sprinkler systems are not perfect. They can fail to control or extinguish a fire because of factors such as closed valves, frozen water supplies, inadequate water supply, obstructed sprinkler discharge, and impaired sprinkler heads. To achieve the protection offered by a sprinkler system, facilities managers must ensure accurate design, installation, maintenance, and repair. When building occupancies and uses change, and especially when floor plans change, sprinkler systems must change with them.

Standards Related to Automatic Sprinkler Systems

NFPA produces standards that relate to design, installation, maintenance, and inspection of sprinkler, standpipe, water spray, deluge, and pre-action systems as well as fire pumps. Local building and fire codes, whether NFPA or ICC codes, serve as the basis, and usually incorporate these standards by reference. As a result, facilities managers have obligations to ensure that new system installations, retrofit systems, and revisions to existing systems all meet current code.

NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems. This standard provides the minimum requirements for the design and installation of all types of sprinkler systems found in most occupancy types. The only occupancies not specifically covered in NFPA 13 are smaller residential occupancies. This standard covers all aspects of system design and installation, including components, water supply, and fire pumps.

NFPA 13D, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in One- and Two-Family Dwellings and Manufactured Homes. This standard lists the requirements for small, fast-response sprinkler systems that improve life safety and property protection in private homes.

NFPA 13R, Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems in Residential Occupancies up to and Including Four Stories in Height. This standard provides requirements for residential-type sprinkler systems in low-rise multifamily dwellings.

NFPA 14, Standard for Installation of Standpipes and Hoses. This standard governs design, installation, acceptance, inspection, testing, and maintenance of any standpipe and hose system, whether for use by firefighters or building occupants.

NFPA 15, Standard for Water Spray Fixed Systems for Fire Protection. This standard defines installation, acceptance, inspection, and maintenance requirements for water spray systems.

NFPA 20, Standard for the Installation of Stationary Pumps for Fire Protection. This standard defines design, installation, and acceptance testing.

NFPA 24, Standard for the Installation of Private Fire Service Mains and Their Appurtenances. This standard defines installation of fire hydrants.

NFPA 25, Standards for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems. This standard provides inspection and maintenance requirements for automatic sprinkler systems.

Sprinkler Systems

Despite advances in other forms of fixed fire protection, automatic sprinkler systems remain the most reliable form of fixed fire protection for commercial, industrial, institutional, residential, and other occupancies. Like any advanced building system, sprinkler systems consist of many components, each designed and sized for a specific application. Although most buildings use fire protection systems made from pipes charged with water, several other existing configurations support other types of structures. Coverage can also vary.

Sprinkler System Effects on Life Safety

Sprinkler systems enhance the life safety of building occupants because the system discharges water directly on the fire while it is relatively small. The sprinkler system can extinguish or control the fire in the incipient stage, limiting the generation of combustion products.

To date, NFPA has never recorded a multiple-death fire in a building with full sprinkler coverage when the system was operating properly. When sprinklers control fires, less business interruption and water damage occur than when traditional fire response methods are used. Data compiled by the Factory Mutual Research Corporation indicates that the activation of five or fewer sprinkler heads controls about 70 percent of all fires.

The few fire fatalities that NFPA has recorded in buildings with sprinkler protection are the result of either asphyxiation from small fires that do not generate sufficient heat to open a sprinkler or fatal injuries suffered by the victim before the sprinkler operated. Sprinklers might also be unable to help sleeping, intoxicated, or handicapped persons whose clothing or bedding ignites early in the fire process. However, in these cases, the sprinkler system will protect the lives of people in other parts of the building.

In general, automatic sprinkler systems seldom fail to operate. When failures occur, they are rarely the result of a failure of the actual sprinklers. A sprinkler system might not perform properly because of factors such as the following:

  • Partially or completely closed main water control
  • Interruption to the municipal water supply
  • Damaged or painted-over sprinklers
  • Frozen or broken pipes
  • Excess debris or sediment in the pipes
  • Failure of a secondary water supply.

Therefore, inspecting and maintaining a sprinkler system and its components remain an essential function of the facilities manager. Failure to ensure that the sprinkler system will work as designed jeopardizes its capacity to protect life and property.

Components and Operation of Automatic Sprinkler Systems

Automatic sprinkler protection consists of a series of sprinklers arranged so that the system will automatically distribute sufficient quantities of water directly to the fire to either extinguish it or hold it in check until firefighters arrive. Water is supplied to the sprinkler through a system of piping. The sprinkler can extend from exposed pipes, protrude through the ceiling or walls from hidden pipes, or be recessed into ceilings.

Two general types of sprinkler coverage can be used: complete and partial. A complete sprinkler system protects the entire building, whereas a partial sprinkler system protects only certain areas such as high-hazard areas, exit routes, or places designated by code or by the AHJ.

Sprinkler System Design

NFPA 13 establishes design and installation criteria for sprinkler protection in occupancies. This standard has requirements regarding the spacing of sprinklers in a building, acceptable pipe sizing, proper method of hanging the pipe, and all other details concerning the installation of a sprinkler system. These standards specify the minimum design area that engineers must use to calculate the system, which includes the maximum number of sprinklers that the engineer expects to activate. Most public water supply systems cannot adequately supply hundreds of operating sprinklers at once, so design of the system assumes that only a portion of the sprinklers will open during a fire.

NFPA 13 allows two methods of sprinkler design: pipe schedule method, which relies on past experience in other occupancies, and hydraulic calculation, which relies on software to optimize pipe diameters and lengths. Most modern installations use the hydraulic calculation method.

The automatic sprinkler and all component parts of the system have listings from a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as UL or Factory Mutual.

Sprinkler System Fundamentals

Basic elements of a sprinkler system include the feeder main, backflow prevention valve, sprinkler valve, riser, fire department connection, area isolation valves, feed mains, cross-mains, branch lines, and sprinkler heads. Each valve has a drain associated with it. A fire pump, if necessary, provides pressure to the main riser between the backflow prevention valve and the sprinkler valve.

Sprinkler system water flows from a tap in a water main to the backflow prevention valve. Code requires that this tap be a separate line from domestic water. The backflow prevention valve prevents contamination of the water in the main distribution system. Beyond the backflow prevention valve, water enters the sprinkler valve. The sprinkler valve allows for maintenance and testing of the entire system at once. For this purpose, it includes a test drain. At this point, a single fire department connection (FDC) pipe runs to the exterior of the structure. The FDC allows response personnel to connect additional water flow devices, including hydrants and truck-mounted pumps, to the sprinkler system to support water flow. The FDC has a check valve to keep water from flowing to the street when the sprinkler system is pressurized.

From the main sprinkler valve, the sprinkler system can split into separate risers, depending on the design of the system and requirements of the structure it serves. Risers travel vertically to a feed main, which connects the riser to the cross-mains. The cross-mains directly service a number of branch lines, which hold the sprinkler heads. Cross-mains extend past the last branch lines and have caps to facilitate flushing. System piping decreases in size from the riser outward. Hangers and clamps support the entire system. All pipes pitch to help drain the system back toward the main drain.

Sprinklers discharge water after some heat-responsive element releases a cap or plug. Sprinklers are fixed-spray nozzles that operate individually by a thermal detector. There are numerous types and designs of sprinklers.

Sprinkler System Components

Sprinkler Storage

Code requires installation of a storage cabinet for housing extra sprinklers and a sprinkler wrench in the area protected by the sprinkler system. Normally these cabinets hold a minimum of six sprinklers for small systems, but they should have spare sprinkler heads of every type installed in a system. The sprinkler wrench is a sized open or box head wrench and prevents damage during installation of new sprinkler heads. Trained personnel must replace sprinkler heads, and local code may require that this maintenance be done by licensed personnel.

Water Supply

Every sprinkler system should have a water supply of adequate volume, pressure, and reliability. Sprinkler installation code requires an independent water supply for fire sprinklers. The water supply must be capable of delivering the required volume of water to the highest sprinkler in a building at a residual pressure of 15 psi (100 kPa). Hazards present in the building and occupancy type determine the minimum flow. A public water system that has adequate volume, pressure, and reliability is a good source of water for automatic sprinklers; this source is often the only water supply.

A gravity tank of the proper size also makes a reliable primary water supply. To give the minimum required pressure, the bottom of the tank should be at least 35 feet (11 meters) above the highest sprinkler in the building.

Pressure tanks, another source of water supply, occur in connection with a secondary supply. Standard placement for pressure tanks is on the top floor or on the roof of a building. This type of tank is usually two-thirds full of water and carries an air pressure of at least 75 psi (525 kPa). An adequate fire pump that takes suction from a static source, such as a large reservoir or storage tank, provides a secondary source of water supply.

Backflow Prevention Devices

As with other water supply systems, most municipalities require installation of backflow prevention devices to protect municipal water supplies from contamination that might occur in building water systems.

Control Valves

Every sprinkler system has a main water control valve. Control valves cut off the water supply to the system to allow interruption of operation, inspections, and maintenance. These valves separate the source of water supply and the sprinkler system. The control valve is usually immediately under the sprinkler alarm valve, dry pipe, or deluge valve, or outside the building near the sprinkler system that it controls. The main control valve must remain open to allow full system performance, and part of any system maintenance operation should include ensuring that technicians have reset control valves. Code requires that control valves be secured in the open position, supervised by an alarm system, and periodically (weekly or monthly) checked visually to ensure that they are still open.

Main water control valves are the indicating type and are manual. An indicating control valve is one that shows at a glance whether it is open or closed. Four common types of indicator control valves are  used in sprinkler systems: outside stem and yolk (OS&Y), post indicator, wall post indicator, and post indicator valve assembly.

Buildings with fire alarm systems often have interconnections between sprinkler and alarm at the control valves. Two alarm system points at each valve monitor whether anyone has operated the valve manually or whether water is moving through the system. These alarm system points are tamper and flow sensors.

Operating Valves

In addition to the main water control valves, sprinkler systems employ various operating valves such as globe valves, stop or cock valves, check valves, and automatic drain valves. The alarm test valve separates the supply side of the alarm check valve and the retard chamber. This valve stimulates actuation of the system by allowing water to flow into the retard chamber and operate the water flow alarm devices. A remote part of the sprinkler system has an inspector's test valve, which has the same size orifice as one sprinkler and simulates the activation of one sprinkler. The water from the inspector's test valve should drain to the outside of the building.

Water Flow Alarms

Operation of the alarm check valve, dry-pipe valve, or deluge valve in sprinkler systems activates fire alarms. Sprinkler water flow alarms use either hydraulic or electrical sensing to warn that water is moving within the system. The hydraulic alarm alerts passers-by or personnel in a sprinklered building that water is flowing in the system. This type of alarm uses the water movement in the system to branch off to a water motor, which drives a local alarm gong. The electric water flow alarm alerts building occupants, and it can also notify the fire department. With this type of alarm, the water movement presses against a diaphragm, which in turn causes a switch to operate the alarm.

Fire Department Connections

By design, the water supply for sprinkler systems feeds only a fraction of the sprinklers actually installed on the system. Most sprinkler systems, excluding early suppression fast response (ESFR) systems, only serve to control the fire unit until the fire department responders arrive. In the event of a major fire, pipe break, or other compromise to the sprinkler system or water supply, the sprinkler system will need an outside source of water and pressure to do its job effectively. A fire department pumper truck can provide this additional water volume and pressure through the FDC. The FDC has a dry pipe leading to the exterior of the building and a check valve, held closed by building water pressure. If these connections are not intact, the FDC will not function as designed, compromising response and property protection.

Sprinkler Heads

Sprinklers hold water pressure by various means. Four of the most common release mechanisms are fusible links, glass bulbs, chemical pellets, and quick-response mechanisms that fuse or open in response to heat.

Three basic designs for sprinklers are available: pendant, upright, and sidewall. The selection of sprinkler head depends on the system design and the hazard against which the sprinkler protects. Sprinkler heads are not interchangeable.

The sprinkler used for a given application should depend on the maximum temperature expected at the level of the sprinkler under normal conditions and the anticipated rate of heat release produced by a fire in the particular area. Color coding on the frame arms of the head indicate the temperature rating, except for coated sprinklers and decorative heads. Coated sprinklers have colored frame arms, coating material, or a colored dot on the top of the deflector. Decorative sprinkler heads, such as plated or ceiling sprinklers, need not have color coding; however, some manufacturers use a dot on the top of the deflector.

Types of Sprinkler Systems

Facilities managers should understand the four basic types of sprinkler systems in widespread use: wet-pipe, dry-pipe, deluge, and pre-action.

Wet-Pipe System

A wet-pipe system is the simplest type of automatic fire sprinkler system and generally requires little maintenance. This system contains water under pressure at all times and connects to the water supply. A fused sprinkler will immediately discharge a water spray in that area and actuate an alarm. This type of system usually has an alarm check valve in the main riser adjacent to where the feed main enters the building. Systems protecting large areas or multistory structures usually have area isolation valves, which also have tamper alarms, flow alarms, and drains.

To shut down the system, technicians turn off the water control valve and open the main drain. A pressure gauge on the riser should indicate system pressure. If it reads no pressure, someone likely has shut off the system at the control valve. This action impairs the fire sprinkler system and, for sustained impairments, requires extra measures to protect against fire.

The wet-pipe system is conducive to conditioned locations not prone to freezing. To protect against freezing, some wet-pipe systems use antifreeze. The recessed dry-type sprinkler head, a gas-filled pipe with a sprinkler head attached, provides some resistance to freezing at the head but not at the branch line. Most versions of sprinkler installation code prohibit the use of heat tracing to prevent the freezing of branch lines; newer codes allow heat tracing of branch lines under very specific conditions.

Dry-Pipe Sprinkler System

A dry-pipe valve keeps water out of the sprinkler piping until a fire actuates a sprinkler. In a dry-pipe sprinkler system, air under pressure replaces water in the sprinkler piping above the dry-pipe valve. When a sprinkler fuses, the pressurized air escapes first, and then the dry-pipe valve automatically opens to permit water into the piping system. In a dry-pipe valve design, a small amount of air pressure will hold back a much greater water pressure on the water supply side of the dry-pipe valve, using a larger surface area on the air side of the clapper valve than on the water side. Dry-pipe valves have an air pressure gauge above the clapper and a water pressure gauge below the clapper. Under normal circumstances, the air pressure gauge will read a pressure that is substantially lower than the water pressure gauge. If the gauges read the same, a system trip has occurred, and water has entered the pipes. This situation poses a property damage and system impairment threat if the pipes freeze.

The required air pressure for dry systems usually ranges between 15 and 50 psi (100 and 350 kPa). Air pressure for a dry pipe can be from plant air service or from an air compressor and tank used exclusively for the sprinkler system.

Dry systems are equipped with either electric or hydraulic alarm-signaling equipment. A dry-pipe sprinkler system is most useful in locations where freezing conditions can occur at exposed piping.

Deluge Sprinkler System

A deluge system involves wetting down the area where a fire originates by discharging water from all open sprinklers in the system. This system normally protects highly hazardous occupancies. Many modern aircraft hangars and cooling towers use deluge systems for fire protection and might also have a wet-pipe or dry-pipe sprinkler system. This system is ordinarily equipped with open sprinklers and a deluge valve. A system using partly open and partly closed sprinklers is a variation of the deluge system.

Fire detection devices, heat detection devices, or both — or a combination of smoke-detecting devices plus a manual device — control the activation of the deluge system. Deluge systems require an alarm system because the system operates automatically and the sprinklers do not have heat-responsive elements. This detection system connects to a tripping device that activates the deluge system. Just as there are several different modes of detection, there are also many different methods of operating the deluge valve. Deluge valves can operate electrically, pneumatically, or hydraulically.

Operating pressures for deluge systems depend on the number of heads and the height of risers. However, because deluge systems use open sprinklers (without a fusible link to hold water pressure), all the sprinklers on a deluge system will flow water at once. This system often requires high pressure and can require a fire pump.

Pre-action System

A pre-action system uses a deluge-type valve, fire detection devices, dry pipe, and closed sprinklers. Pre-action systems prevent water damage, even in case of sprinkler or pipe damage.

Fire detection and operation of the system introduce water into the distribution piping before the opening of a sprinkler. In this system, fire detection devices operate a release located in the system actuation unit. This release opens the deluge valve and permits water to enter the distribution system so that water is ready when the sprinklers fuse. When water enters the system, an alarm sounds to give a warning before the opening of the sprinkler. In this way, it provides redundant control of water flow.

Inspecting and testing the system are essentially the same as deluge system inspection and testing. A system that contains more than 20 sprinklers must have fire panel supervision so that if the detection system fails, the system will still operate automatically.

Fire Pumps

Sprinkler systems, regardless of type, require adequate water pressure to provide sufficient water volume to extinguish fires. Some municipal water supplies might not be capable of providing these pressures. In these cases, a fire pump supplies the necessary pressure. Fire pumps often include a jockey pump, which maintains high pressure on a sprinkler system, increasing sensitivity to a pressure drop. Code requires weekly operation of diesel fire pumps and monthly operation of electric pumps in addition to annual service.

Deluge systems use open sprinkler heads and can have very high water flow demands. Similarly, expansive or high-rise sprinkler systems can require high working pressures to overcome pipe friction and gravity. Either of these cases can create a need for a fire pump.

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Fire Detection Systems


The early detection of a fire and the signaling of an appropriate alarm remain the most significant factors in preventing large losses from occurring. History has proven that delay in fire detection and alarm transmission will result in increased injuries, deaths, and property losses. Modern fire detection and signaling systems are a reliable method of reducing the risk of a large-loss incident.

Types of Signaling Systems

Protective signaling systems help limit fire losses involving life and property by alerting occupants, facilities managers, and emergency forces. Signaling systems vary in complexity; a simple system might sound only a local evacuation alarm, and a complex system can sound a local alarm, control building services, and notify outside agencies to respond. The type of system installed in any given occupancy depends on factors such as the following:

  • Level of life safety hazard
  • Structural features of the building
  • Level of hazard presented by contents in the building
  • Local and state code requirements
  • Risk management needs.

The requirements for all fire alarm and protective signaling systems are contained in NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm Code.

Basic System Components

Fire detection and signaling systems are very complex systems with highly technical components. Such systems include components that specialists with licensing in the systems must install and maintain. The components of the system should have listings from a nationally recognized testing laboratory, such as UL or Factory Mutual, to ensure operational reliability. Testing reports may address either an entire system or individual components that may occur in interchangeable applications. The installation of the system shall conform to the applicable provisions of NFPA 70, National Electrical Code, and the respective standard for that particular type of system.

System Control Unit

The system control unit is essentially the brain of the system. This unit processes alarm signals from actuating devices and transmits them to the local or other signaling systems. The common name of the system control panel is the fire alarm control or annunciator panel. All the controls for the system are in the system control unit.

Initiating Devices

Initiating devices are manual and automatic devices that send an appropriate signal to the system control unit. The initiating device might have a hardwire connection to the system control unit by a hardwired system, or it might have radio control over a special frequency. Initiating devices include manual pull stations, heat detectors, smoke detectors, flame detectors, and combination detectors.

Alarm-Indicating Devices

Once an initiating device activates and transmits a signal to the system control unit, the control unit takes appropriate action. This action can include the sounding and lighting of local alarms and the transmission of an emergency signal to a central station service or the fire department dispatch center. Local alarm devices include bells, buzzers, horns, recorded voice messages, strobe lights, and other warning lights. Depending on the design of the system, the local alarm might sound only in the area of the tripped detection device, or it might sound in the entire facility.

Power Supply

Fire alarm systems require electricity to operate. Codes require that they have redundant power supplies (primary and secondary) in addition to a trouble circuit power supply.

Primary

The primary electrical power supply will usually consist of the building's main connection to the local public electric utility. An alternative power supply is an engine-driven generator that will provide electrical power. However, when power supplies include a generator, either a trained operator must be on duty 24 hours a day, or the system must contain multiple engine-driven generators. One of these generators must always have automatic starting. Both power supplies must have electronic supervision and should signal an alarm if an interruption to the power supply occurs.

Secondary

Detection and signaling systems must have a secondary power supply. This approach ensures that the system will be operational even if the main power supply fails. The secondary system must be able to make the detection and signaling system fully operational within 30 seconds of failure of the main power supply. The secondary power source must consist of one of the following:

  • Storage battery and charger
  • Engine-driven generator and a four-hour-capacity storage battery
  • Multiple engine-driven generators, with one always set for automatic starting.
Trouble Signal

A source of power must be available for the trouble signal indicator. This source of power does not have to be the primary power supply; it can be the secondary power supply or a totally independent power supply as long as it does not entail the use of dry-cell batteries.


Initiating Devices
Manual Alarm-Initiating Devices

Manual alarm-initiating devices, commonly called pull boxes, allow occupants to manually initiate the fire signaling system. Pull boxes can initiate local alarm systems, supervisory notification alarms, or both.

Automatic Alarm-Initiating Devices

An automatic alarm-initiation device, sometimes simply called a detector, is a device that continuously monitors the atmosphere of a given area for the products of combustion. Then, when it detects such products, the device sends a signal to the system control unit. This device is typically quite accurate at sensing the presence of the specific combustion products that it is designed to detect. However, in many cases, these products exist when an emergency condition does not. For example, flame detectors might trip if a welder strikes an arc in a monitored area. These possibilities force fire protection system designers to take into account the normal activities that take place in a given area. System designers must then design a detection system that will minimize the risk of an accidental activation.

Heat Detectors

Heat is an abundant product of combustion. It is detectable by certain devices using three primary principles of physics: expansion, melting, and detectable thermoelectric properties. All heat detection devices use one or more of these principles as a basis for their operation.

Fixed-Temperature Heat Detectors

Systems using heat detection devices are among the oldest types of fire detection systems in use. They are relatively inexpensive in comparison to other types of systems and are the least prone of any system to false activation. However, heat detectors are typically slowest to activate under fire conditions.

Heat detectors must occupy high portions of a room, usually on the ceiling, to be effective. The activation rating of detectors must give at least some small margin of cushion above the normal ceiling temperatures for an area.

Bimetallic Detector

A bimetallic detector uses two types of metal that have different heat expansion ratios. Bonding thin strips of these metals allows the heat expansion differential to cause the combined strip to arch when heated. The increase in arch depends on the characteristics of the metals, amount of heat, and degree of arch when the strip is in the normal position. The design of the detector takes all of these factors into account.

Most bimetallic detectors are the automatic resetting type. After actuation, technicians need to check the detectors, however, to ensure that no damage has occurred.

Rate-of-Rise Heat Detector

A rate-of-rise heat detector operates on the principle that fires rapidly increase the temperature in a given area. The rate-of-rise detector will detect these quick increases in temperature. These detectors will respond at substantially lower temperatures than do fixed-temperature detectors. Typically, rate-of-rise heat detectors send a signal when the temperature rise exceeds 12°F to 15°F (6.7°C to 8.3°C) per minute because temperature changes of this magnitude are infrequent under normal nonfire circumstances.

Most rate-of-rise heat detectors are reliable and not subject to false activation events. However, they can occasionally activate under nonfire conditions. For example, when a rate-of-rise detector is near a garage door in an air conditioned building and the garage door opens on a hot day, the influx of heated air will rapidly increase the temperature around the detector and will cause it to activate. Avoiding such placement during design eliminates these situations. Several different types of rate-of-rise heat detectors are in use; all rate-of-rise detectors automatically reset.

Smoke Detectors

A smoke detector senses the presence of a fire much more quickly than does a heat detection device. The smoke detector is the preferred detector in many types of occupancies and occurs extensively in residential settings. Two basic types of smoke detectors are in use: photoelectric and ionization.

Photoelectric Smoke Detector

A photoelectric detector, or visible-products-of-combustion smoke detector, uses a photoelectric cell coupled with a specific light source. The photoelectric cell functions in two ways to detect smoke: beam application and refractory application.

In the beam application, a beam of light focuses across an area and onto a photoelectric cell. The cell constantly converts the beam into current, which keeps a switch open. When smoke blocks the path of the light beam, the current drops, the switch closes, and an alarm signal initiation occurs.

The refractory photocell uses a light beam that passes through a small chamber at a point away from the light source. Normally, light does not strike the photocell, and no current occurs. When current does not flow, a switch in the circuit remains open. When smoke enters the chamber, it causes the light beam to be refracted (scattered) in random directions. A portion of the scattered light strikes the photocell, causing current to flow. This current closes the switch and activates the alarm signal.

A photoelectric detector works satisfactorily on all types of fires; however, it generally responds more quickly to smoldering fires than does an ionization detector. This detector resets automatically.

Ionization Smoke Detector

During a fire, molecules ionize as they undergo combustion. The ionized molecules have an electron imbalance and tend to steal electrons from other molecules. The ionization smoke detector, or invisible-products-of-combustion smoke detector, incorporates this phenomenon.

The detector has a sensing chamber that samples the air in a room. A small amount of radioactive material (usually americium) adjacent to the opening of the chamber ionizes the air particles as they enter. Inside the chamber are two electrical plates, one positively charged and one negatively charged. The ionized particles free electrons from the negative plate, and the electrons travel to the positive plate. Thus, a minute current normally flows between the two plates. When ionized products of combustion enter the chamber, they pick up the electrons freed by the radioactive ionization. The current between the plates ceases, and an alarm signal initiates.

An ionization detector works satisfactorily on all types of fires; however, it generally responds faster to flaming fires than does a photoelectric detector. This detector also automatically resets.

Flame Detectors

There are three basic types of flame, or light, detector: 1) those that detect light in the ultraviolet wave spectrum (UV detectors), 2) those that detect light in the infrared wave spectrum (IR detectors), and 3) those that detect both types of light.

Although these types of detectors are among the fastest to respond to fires, nonfire conditions (such as welding, sunlight, and other bright light sources) can easily trip them. Positioning of the detectors must reduce these false alarms. These detectors also need a direct view of the protected area. If obstructed, they cannot activate.

An ultraviolet detector can give false alarms when in contact with sunlight and arc welding. Therefore, its use is limited to areas where these and other sources of ultraviolet light are minimal. An infrared detector is effective in monitoring large areas. To prevent activation from infrared light sources other than fires, an infrared detector requires the flickering action of a flame before it activates to send an alarm.

Fire Gas Detectors

When fire breaks out in any confined area, it drastically changes the chemical gas content of the atmosphere in that area. Some of the gases released by a fire include the following:

  • Water vapor
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Hydrogen chloride
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Hydrogen fluoride
  • Hydrogen sulfide.

Of these, all burning materials have only water, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide in common. The other gases released depend on the specific chemical makeup of the fuel. Therefore, for fire detection purposes, it is only practical to monitor the levels of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide. This type of detector responds somewhat faster than a heat detector but not as fast as a smoke detector. It uses either semiconductors or catalytic elements to sense the gas and trigger the alarm. Fire gas detectors are less common than other types of detectors.

Combination Detectors

Depending on the design of the system, various combinations of detection methods can occur in a single device. Sample combinations include fixed-rate and rate-of-rise detectors, heat and smoke detectors, and smoke and fire gas detectors. These combinations give the detector the benefit of both services and increase their responsiveness to fire conditions.

Alarm Signaling

Once the fire alarm system has detected fire or smoke, it activates alarm signals. These signals can sound locally and remotely.

Audible Alarms

The basic alarm function includes sounding of horns, klaxons, sirens, or, in more modern systems, voice messages and computer-generated tones. Code usually requires that audible alarms exceed ambient noise levels by a certain decibel level. Code has provisions for variable- and high-noise environments. System designers must design sufficient placement and power of audible alarm devices to ensure that occupants can hear alarms throughout the facility.

Visible Alarms

High-noise environments, facilities with hearing-impaired occupants, or facilities where occupants might otherwise be unable to hear alarms will require visible alarm signaling. These devices can be rotating beacons or steady, flashing, or strobe lights. Layout and power requirements for visible-alarm signaling devices vary by type of space.

Power Requirements

All local notification devices operate on battery power. Over the life of a building and through many renovations, the addition of new devices can overtax power supplies, resulting in reduced signaling duration or outright failure. Facilities managers should ensure that the design of new alarm systems allows for the expansion of alarm-signaling devices and that these expansions include revisions to as-built battery calculations.

Remote Notification

Many fire alarm systems report to a monitoring station, either at the facility, with the local fire department, or at a remote location. Communications between the fire alarm control panel and the monitoring station must be compatible with the fire alarm panel and often must have a UL listing. The UL listing specifies construction and maintenance of the remote notification communication system and often requires a dedicated fiber optic loop for remote notification.

Auxiliary Functions

Some occupancies have special requirements in the event of a possible fire condition. In these cases, the fire detection and alarm system can be designed to perform the following special functions:

  • Shut down or reverse the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system for smoke control
  • Close smoke doors, fire doors, or both and close dampers
  • Pressurize stairwells for evacuation purposes
  • Override control of elevators and prevent them from opening on the fire floor
  • Automatically return elevators to the ground floor
  • Operate heat and smoke vents
  • Activate special fire extinguishing systems such as halon systems or pre-action and deluge sprinkler systems.

Mass Notification Systems

Annunciation devices that broadcast a message over a wide area are mass notification devices. Modern fire alarm systems integrate with these systems, and code allows the mass notification signal to take precedence over the fire alarm signal.

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Special Occupancies and Uses


Computer Facilities

Information technology is as important to a modern higher education campus as water. Client/server-based software applications support the campus operation and appear in the classroom. The information technology machine room, or data center, is the nerve center of the modern college or university campus. The pervasiveness and essential function of computers and related electronic equipment in every aspect of business, government, and industry have spurred the development of new and innovative methods of risk management.

Halogenated inert agents such as halon were the mainstay of fire protection for computer system rooms. These agents work either to smother the fire by excluding oxygen or to chemically break up the chain reaction that allows fire to propagate. However, environmental protection regulations have banned the production of the halogenated clean agents because they have a very high ozone depletion rate. Because of this ban on production, the cost of halogenated agents has increased greatly.

Inert agent systems that work by excluding oxygen from the fire area also exclude oxygen from occupants. Halocarbon clean agent systems create small quantities of corrosive gases when they interrupt fire. Occupants must have the means to quickly leave a room filling with clean or inert agents. These systems also require construction methods with a measure of gas tightness. Although engineers anticipate some charge loss during fire response, leaving a door or transfer grill open will violate the room envelope and might prevent the system from operating correctly.

Water mist or pre-action systems — and novel clean agents with lower or zero ozone-depleting potential — have replaced halon as the primary means of fire protection in computer rooms. Although many companies have voluntarily taken halon out of service and replaced it with alternative means of fire protection, many companies cannot afford to replace these systems. After system discharge, facilities managers must seek a replacement that complies with the protocol. Because the intent of a clean agent system is to return to production as soon as possible, prudence demands replacement of halon systems before use with an alternative.

Clean and inert agent systems are very expensive to refill after discharge. Although rare, the activation of smoke detectors during construction or dusty maintenance operations can lead to accidental firing of the system. Abort switches by doors and at the panel will help reduce accidental discharge. Similarly, protection of the smoke detectors during construction and dusty work will reduce the frequency of this unfortunate event.

NFPA 2001, Standard on Clean Agent Fire Extinguishing Systems, sets design, installation, inspection, and maintenance requirements for clean and inert agent systems.

Laboratories Using Chemicals

Facilities managers must contend with the ever-increasing complexity of laboratories and the chemicals contained and stored in them. NFPA 45, Fire Protection for Laboratories Using Chemicals, is the standard for protecting these facilities. Laboratory buildings should contain the latest in fire protection, such as special extinguishing and protection systems, fire alarm systems, and portable fire extinguishers.

All flammable and combustible liquids present hazards in laboratories. The severity of the hazards associated with these liquids depends on the following factors:

  • Quantity of flammable and combustible liquid
  • Volatility of the liquid
  • Flammable range of the liquid
  • System open or closed to air
  • Methods of containment
  • Location of storage
  • Outside ignition sources
  • Building construction
  • Fire protection.

NFPA 45 differentiates between laboratories by quantity of flammable and combustible liquid stored per unit area and overall. It also codifies circumstances where second exits are required in laboratories and includes special protective measures for reactive and explosive risks in laboratories.

Note that ICC codes often do not incorporate NFPA 45 by reference. Jurisdictions that recognize the Life Safety Code (NFPA 101), Uniform Fire Code (NFPA 1), or both will often recognize NFPA 45.  The California fire code includes a specific occupancy type that addresses laboratory exposures. The L occupancy draws a balance between business and industrial occupancies, the two likely occupancy types in NFPA and ICC codes.

Libraries and Museums

From a fire protection point of view, libraries and museums present unique hazards that require special attention. Some of the problems include high fuel loads, high values, and public access with nonstandard hours of business.

Because of the unique risk to life and property, facilities managers must pay special attention to fire prevention and protection efforts. NFPA 909, Code for the Protection of Cultural Resource Properties Museums, Libraries, and Places of Worship, sets the recognized good practice for protecting these reliable assets and the people who use them.

Protecting the integrity of the collection, whether books or artifacts, is a primary goal of fire prevention and protection in library and museum exposures. Fire prevention often relies heavily on caretaker staff, whether librarians or docents. Fire protection often uses pre-action systems to decrease the incidence of water damage due to accidental discharge of the sprinkler system.

Assemblies

Assembly occupancies accommodate gatherings of 50 or more people for a common purpose, including deliberation. Churches, concert halls, bus stations, airports, classrooms, and convention centers are all examples of assembly occupancies. Such assembly occupancies have several important factors that require attention by facilities managers.

Common risks attend assembly occupancies. Often, the crowds are unfamiliar with the venue and do not understand all the egress routes. Large numbers of people are prone to panic and stampede. The reason for the gathering might be a risk in and of itself.

Critical elements in safe assembly include the following:

  • Occupant load capacity, a function of the kind of activity in the assembly space
  • Means-of-egress capacity, often a function of width of pathways at the most constrained points
  • Access to egress, often via aisles and cross-aisles
  • Flame resistance of furnishings and finishes
  • Separation of exit access and exits
  • Emergency managers, often ushers, who are used for crowd control.

Means of egress and occupancy load are crucial because of the potential for loss of life. Codes have responded to repeated disasters in assembly spaces by requiring specific facility improvements and operating features, including crowd managers who act as first responders in case of emergency.  

Kitchens

Commercial kitchens require special attention. Commercial cooking equipment generates grease-laden vapors that can easily ignite. The high fuel loads and high temperatures create the capacity for rapidly escalating fires.

Ventilation of grease-laden vapors is a basic fire prevention measure. The installation of automatic active fire control systems adds protection. Commercial kitchen fire suppression systems operate by using wet chemical technology, which cools and saponifies the burning grease to quickly control fire, flame, and heat damage. Wet chemical systems expel the fire suppression agent directly onto cooking appliances. For this reason, it is essential that kitchen equipment remain where nozzles will provide accurate coverage. When kitchen operators move kitchen equipment or change out equipment without updating the fire protection, they can leave the kitchen vulnerable to a catastrophic fire.

NFPA has published two standards for fire prevention and protection in commercial kitchens. NFPA 96, Standard for Ventilation Control and Fire Protection of Commercial Cooking Operations, describes fire protection measures for the management of grease-laden vapors. NFPA 17A, Standard for Wet Chemical Extinguishing System, contains all the requirements for installation, inspection, testing, and maintenance of wet chemical kitchen systems.

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Fire Protection During Construction, Alteration, and Demolition


Construction, alteration, and demolition create the conditions under which there is the greatest chance for fire and smoke loss. Impairments to fire detection and protection systems greatly increase this risk. Compromises to fire-resistant walls, floors, and enclosures often enhance the possible occurrence of a fire, the spread of a fire, or both.

Safety-conscious construction and alteration crews will improve fire prevention. The contractor must provide alternative methods for fire protection to work around impairments. For fire protection systems, these methods can include fire watches, evacuation of the building, reduction of fuel load, and alternative fire protection means. Facilities managers should consult fire protection and safety professionals to ensure that construction does not impair all fire protection systems at once. Fire watchmen can use handheld fire extinguishers for attacking an incipient-stage fire. NFPA standards for fire watches require a dedicated fire watchman (or watchmen) and at least one visit per hour to a space affected by an impairment.

The increased fire and smoke risk construction requires that facilities and contract managers take the safety of the construction crew and other building occupants into account. NFPA 241, Safeguarding Construction, Alteration, and Demolition Operations, provides additional means to safeguard a construction site.

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Fire and Emergency Services


Although a few colleges, universities, and other institutional occupancies maintain their own fire departments, this is a decreasing trend. In nearly all cases, a local government provides fire and emergency services for a given facility. Maintaining viable and open communications among the fire and emergency service providers and the institution is an important role for the facilities manager. Regular and positive communications will help ensure that the fire department and emergency medical service provider are fully aware of the idiosyncrasies of the facility and that the management is clearly aware of the capabilities of the emergency agencies.

In cases where a facility is either remotely located or of sufficient complexity that it must maintain its own emergency response capability, the emergency responders likely will fall under the standards prescribed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These proprietary fire services or fire brigades generally represent a costly alternative to quality communications and relationships with local fire services. In most cases, it will be far more cost-effective to spend time and effort on familiarizing local emergency responders with the unique requirements of a given facility than it will be to organize, maintain, and operate a proprietary fire service or a fire brigade. Maintenance and operation of fire brigades or proprietary fire services are beyond the scope of this chapter.

Liaison with Fire Department

Institutions should strongly consider the designation of a liaison to local government emergency services. In addition to fostering proper communications and facilitating awareness tours, the liaison officer should be prepared to represent the institution's interests in code issues, fire inspections, and emergency planning. Emergency managers and fire prevention liaisons should be deeply versed in the ICS because most municipal fire services use this system to control emergency sites.

Many institutions have launched quality efforts with local fire services in providing high-quality public fire safety education programs. Adult audiences are often very difficult to deal with when attempting to modify behaviors that create hazardous situations. In general, a full commitment on the part of both the local fire department and the institution is needed to provide a high-quality, fast-moving, and focused public fire safety campaign that will be measurably effective. Organizations such as the Campus Safety, Health, and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA, www.cshema.org), Center for Campus Fire Safety (www.campusfiresafety.org), and educational section of NFPA can offer assistance in this important area. Facilities managers can review the Campus Firewatch materials (www.campus-firewatch.com) for additional information.

Water Supply for Fire Services

Technology keeps advancing, with new methods and materials for extinguishing fires. However, water still remains the primary extinguishing agent because of its universal abundance and its ability to absorb heat. Two primary advantages of water are that it is easy to move and easy to store. These are the fundamental principles of a water supply system. Because water remains the primary extinguishing agent used by firefighters, it is important that facility managers understand water supply systems.

Location of Fire Hydrants

Although water department personnel usually oversee the installation of fire hydrants, the local fire chief or fire marshal should determine location, spacing, and distribution of fire hydrants. In general, fire hydrant spacing should be not more than 300 feet (90 meters) apart in high-value districts. A rule of thumb is one hydrant near each street intersection, with intermediate hydrants placed where distances between intersections exceed 350 to 400 feet (105 to 120 meters). This basic rule represents a minimum requirement and is only a guide for spacing hydrants. Other factors more pertinent to the particular locale include types of construction, types of occupancy, congestion, sizes of water mains, fire flows, and pumping capacities.

Fire Hydrant Maintenance

In most institutions, repair and maintenance of fire hydrants are the responsibility of the facilities department because this department is in a better position to do this work than any other agency. However, in many cases, the fire department performs water supply testing and hydrant inspections. Personnel should look for the following potential problems when checking fire hydrants:

  • Are there obstructions such as signposts, utility poles, or fences that are too near the hydrant?
  • Do the outlets face the proper direction, and is there sufficient clearance between the outlets and the ground?
  • Has any event damaged the hydrant?
  • Is rust or other corrosion impairing the hydrant?
  • Is the operating stem easy to turn?
  • Are the hydrant caps stuck in place with paint?
  • Is there adequate pressure?

NFPA 291 provides a recommended practice for flow-testing and marking fire hydrants. Facilities managers should confirm hydrant-marking practices with the municipal fire authority before instituting a hydrant-marking program.

Fire Department Access Road Maintenance

Emergency services vehicles require clear access to structures to effectively stage a fire response. Fire department access roads (still commonly called fire lanes) must allow emergency services vehicles access to structures at all times. The width and free height of these roads depends on local jurisdiction, but NFPA standards require access roads to be 20 feet wide (6.1 meters) by 13 feet 6 inches (4.1 meters) high. Fire department access roads serving facilities in excess of 30 feet require 26 feet in width to accommodate the larger footprint of response equipment. Fire department access roads longer than 150 feet (45.7 meters) need to have turnaround capability.

Facilities managers have an obligation to ensure that fire department access roads are well marked and remain clear of obstructions that could hinder response.

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Summary


Fire protection is more than just the design, purchase, and installation of a fire alarm or fire protection system. Fire protection is an integrated program of facilities design, facilities components, operations and maintenance, and support processes that provide the desired level of protection for the occupants, the building, and its contents. The fire protection program at a college or university should encompass all the necessary elements.

Fires do not "just happen." They have causes rooted in unsafe acts or conditions. Thus, management can prevent most fires by preventing the contributing unsafe acts or conditions. This approach results in reduction and often outright elimination of the fire losses to life, health, property, and cash flows.

Fire prevention activities can be the most important aspect of the total fire protection effort. Well-planned fire prevention activities can save thousands of dollars by preventing destructive fires. Conventional wisdom in industry holds that the amount of time spent on fire prevention relates directly to a reduction in fire losses.

Fire prevention is an investment with uncertain return. Just as with other loss prevention investments, few organizations count days without loss as victories; they are simply evidence that the people running the facility are either lucky or good. No one can change luck, but most facilities managers can improve their performance. Most of the time, documenting a gap between external expectations and current performance is a sufficient driver for change. However, most managers will view as self-evident the conclusion that fire prevention and protection mitigate concerns about business continuity.

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