Building managers face many pressing issues on a regular basis, such as fixing leaking pipes or making sure that the building is clean. This means that fire protection often gets pushed down on the list of priorities. Many managers know the importance of fire safety but assume that fires happen so rarely that it is not a major concern for them. However, it is important for building managers to stay on top of the fire protection plan in their facility so that they can save a lot of money and even human lives in the event that a fire does occur. Ultimately, the main goal of fire protection is to save the lives of people and protect property from damage.
Installing a fire detection system is a great start to having the fire protection you need to ensure the safety of all. Fire sprinkler systems and fire suppression systems can give everyone inside valuable time to escape safely and can also limit the damage caused by a fire, which can save a business a lot of money. Mass notification systems are also beneficial for a quick response time for whichever authority is needed to be alerted in the case of a fire, chemical spill, power outage, security threat, or other event. Below is a helpful guide into ensuring your facility has the proper fire protection systems and plans in place in the event of a fire.
Make a Fire Safety Plan
Making a fire safety plan is one of the first steps a building manager can take to ensuring their building is protected from fire. When making a fire safety plan, there are some steps you can take to make sure you are prepared:
- Provide an evacuation plan: Document the emergency evacuation procedures and make them available to those in the building. Have fire drills to practice the evacuation routes.
- Have fire prevention measures in place: make sure your building has a no smoking policy, that flammable materials are properly stored, and that electrical equipment is used correctly.
- Make sure employees are educated on fire safety: Train employees so they know the emergency evacuation plan. Make sure they know the location of emergency exits, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers. Once a new fire protection system is in place, you may want to have professionals provide training to the building manager and employees, so they are aware of the new fire protection equipment.
Ensure Your Building Has Proper Fire Protection
The design and installation of a fire protection system is a crucial component of protecting your building from a fire. When considering what fire protection system is right for you, it is important that you know your building codes and research the different options that are available for smoke detectors, fire alarms, fire sprinklers, and fire protection for special hazards. A notification system may also be a system your building or campus would benefit from. This is a quick and efficient way to communicate with the people within your facilities.
- Understand Building Codes: The fire codes for your building should be used as a minimum standard for fire protection for your building. Understand that your building may need more fire protection than what the building code requires due to the structure or needs of your building. It is important to acknowledge that the codes may vary across a country, state, or county. If you have multiple locations, you may have different requirements depending upon the local code for that area. While a building manager should not have to memorize all building code requirements, it is important for them to be familiar with the standards. The NFPA is a great resource for building managers who are looking for information about fire codes and standards. Your insurance company may also have fire safety requirements for your building. Many insurance companies have more requirements for fire protection than what the building code demands. Knowing and complying with insurance company specifications will help you to lower your insurance rates.
- Smoke Detectors: Smoke detectors are an essential part of your fire protection system. Smoke detectors are able to detect the presence of a fire and alert the occupants of the building before the fire becomes too large, which can save lives. The different types of smoke detectors have varying benefits. Building managers need to figure out which type of smoke alarm would work best for your building. The three main types of smoke detectors are ionized detectors, photoelectric detectors, or dual sensor detectors. For more information on these smoke detectors, read our article “The Importance of Smoke Alarms.”
- Fire Alarms: A fire alarm system runs throughout the entire building, and its purpose is to send out an alarm that tells the occupants of the building a fire is present and that they should exit the building. Fire alarms sound after they have been set off automatically by smoke detectors or heat detectors. The alarms can also be triggered by waterflow sensors within a sprinkler system or when someone manually pulls the fire alarm. Fire alarms have a control panel that shows if the system is working properly or if something must be done to troubleshoot it. The control panel also allows you to silence an alarm or reset the system.
- Fire Sprinkler Systems: Installing a fire sprinkler system in your building will help to fight off a fire if one does occur and will protect the building from extensive damage. Fire sprinkler systems are designed specifically to meet the needs of each individual building. A building manager should work with fire protection professionals so that the fire sprinkler system is optimized for your building’s unique needs. Sprinkler systems can be retro-fitted into an existing building if needed. There are different kinds of fire sprinkler systems, such as a wet or dry sprinkler system. Wet systems store water inside of the pipes, while dry systems don’t store water directly in the pipes and may work better in colder environments.
- Fire Suppression Systems for Special Hazards: Depending on your unique building needs, a building manager may need to consider fire protection for special hazards to prevent damage to property and equipment. Special hazards may be anything in your building that has high value such as expensive equipment or valuable artifacts. You may need a fire suppression system installed in your building if you need to protect these special hazards. Some common special hazards protection systems include Deluge Systems, High Expansion Foam Systems, CO2 Systems, Clean Agent Systems, and Water Mist Systems.
- Fire Alarm System Monitoring: If there is a fire, having an alarm monitoring system will let the proper authorities aware of it the moment it happens 24/7, 365 days a year. Emergency agencies are called into action immediately – police, fire, ambulance, or any necessary support services team. Those agencies will be filled in on the details about your facility and brought up to speed on the emergency taking place. This system can also call the designated contact at your address to notify them of the situation and our response to the emergency. All of this happens within minutes of the alarm, which can save not only people’s lives but also limit the damage to the facility itself. Having a fire alarm monitoring system installed is a cost-effective way to ensure that your building, the people inside, and your assets are getting attention quickly in an emergency situation.
- Mass Notification Systems: Mass notification systems go beyond the scope of fire alarm systems. This system can be used for a variety of alarms, such as critical process alarms, hold-up alarms, door opening and closing alarms, temperature alarms, and much more. This system allows you to communicate to multiple buildings, such as across a college campus or throughout a hospital complex. Mass notification may also be used in many emergencies including tornado warnings or chemical spills.
Regular Testing & Inspections
When it comes to testing and inspections for fire protection systems, it is important to know the requirements that the different systems have. Testing and inspections can be done by professional fire inspection companies. Building managers should work with a certified fire protection company to set up a regular schedule for inspections and testing of their fire alarms and fire sprinkler systems so you can be sure your building is in compliance with NFPA standards.
The building manager should conduct weekly and monthly checks of the fire sprinkler systems and fire alarm systems themselves to ensure that everything is running and in good working condition. The inspections of the sprinkler systems will be quick and basic. Just make sure that the components of the sprinkler, such as the gauges or electrical parts, seem to be working as they should. For fire alarms, the building manager should do a visual check of the alarm to see that it is turned on and functioning. For more complicated and time-consuming inspections, you may need to enlist the help of a professional. These inspections will happen weekly, monthly, quarterly, biannually or annually based off of your insurance and industry requirements. If you would like more information about the NFPA standards for testing and inspections, the requirements for sprinkler inspections can be found in NFPA25 and the requirements for fire alarms are found in NFPA72.
Troubleshooting Fire Protection Systems
- Corrosion Management: One of the biggest issues with fire sprinkler systems is corrosion within the pipes. This can impair the function of the sprinkler system by clogging the pipes or causing them to leak. To help prevent corrosion from occurring, you may want to set up regularly scheduled inspections of your system. In a wet pipe sprinkler system, you can prevent corrosion by installing an automatic air venting device that limits the amount of oxygen that enters the system or through a process called wet pipe nitrogen inerting. In a dry pipe system, you can stop corrosion through dry pipe oxygen inerting, which displaces the oxygen from the pipe system.
- Backflow: In a fire sprinkler system, backflow prevention and testing are requirements. It is imperative that the water that enters the sprinkler system only flows one way into the system. If the water starts to flow in the reverse direction it could contaminate the drinking water. The requirements for backflow prevention will vary depending on your location. One way to control backflow is to have a backflow preventer device installed in your sprinkler system. Your system should be tested for backflow every year.
- Valves and Gauges: Sprinkler gauges monitor the water pressure within the system to make sure it will perform properly in an emergency. As the building manager, you will need to do regular inspections of gauges on your system. You will want to look out for gauges that are giving inaccurate readings, wobbling gauge pointers, and leaks near gauges. Valves are used to control the flow of water through a sprinkler system. The building managers need to check the valves to make sure they are in the proper open or closed position. When it comes to valves and gauges, it is important to remember that you should be using high quality components that are UL and FM certified.
- Fire extinguishers: Fire extinguishers are a key component of your fire protection system. Make sure you and those around you are trained on how to use them. Make sure your fire extinguishers have been approved by FM Global and Underwriter’s Laboratory. The building manager should perform a visual inspection to make sure that all fire extinguishers are in the correct location, are not blocked or hidden, do not show signs of damage, and are properly mounted. You should also check the pressure gauge on the extinguisher to ensure the extinguisher is still holding the proper charge.
Seasonal Check of Your Systems
As the seasons start to change each year, it is always a great time to make sure your fire sprinklers, fire alarms and suppression systems are ready for the heat, lightning storms, cold weather, and more. One thing we can always count on is a good storm or cold weather to set our systems amiss. Being on top of the season change will provide a proactive approach to fire protection systems instead of reacting to a problem when it arises, causing more damage or downtime.
- Freeze Ups: To prevent frozen pipes in the winter time, you should have a winter inspection performed on your fire protection system. Especially make sure that your wet pipe system that is exposed to cold temperatures can maintain a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Areas near entryways, stairwells, floors, or ceilings are at the greatest risk of a freeze-up. You may want to hire the help of a professional fire protection contractor to perform a seasonal inspection of your fire sprinkler system.
- Lightning Storms: Lightning can cause many problems for your fire alarm systems. It can cause false alarms or ruin your fire alarm system. If lightning strikes your electrical breaker, it can cause a power surge. These surges may cause your fire alarms to go off and can cause the system to malfunction. You should make sure that your devices have surge protection. Many components have surge protection built in when you purchase them, but you may want to consider aftermarket surge protection to prevent damage to equipment.
- Residential Detectors and Extinguishers: In apartment buildings and hotels, it is important to have seasonal checks of smoke detectors and fire extinguishers. You should replace the batteries in smoke detectors, make sure the sensors are clean and dust free, and test them to make sure they are working properly. Inspect fire extinguishers to make sure they are in the correct locations and are in adequate condition.
- October Fire Prevention Week: This is a tradition that commemorates the Chicago fire of 1871. It is a great opportunity for you to educate your employees and those within your building about fire safety and prevention measures. The NFPA provides materials for education during this week.
Fire Protection Systems & Applications
Whether you are a seasoned building manager or one that is just getting started, having a brief understanding of the different types of fire protection systems that a building can use will help you in discussions with your fire protection contractor, general contractor or an architect. Some buildings you may acquire will be old enough that a sprinkler system was not implemented when the facility was first built. Adding in a sprinkler system to an existing building is known as retrofitting. Installing a fire protection system in new construction is highly recommended in today’s standards. There are many systems to consider based on your building’s unique needs:
- Wet vs Dry Pipe Fire Sprinkler Systems: Wet pipe systems are the most typical fire protection system installed because of the simplicity of the system. Water is pressurized into a piping system and held back by sprinkler heads ready for instantaneous action when needed. Dry pipe systems are the second most common type of fire protection system installed. These are typically used in cold weather climates where water can freeze in the pipes. The pipes are filled with compressed air, and water will enter the system when triggered by an alarm.
- FM 200: FM200 is a waterless fire suppression system that releases a suppression agent within 10 seconds and puts out a fire through heat absorption. It is safe for humans and leaves no residue. This is the fastest form of fire protection, which means it will minimize the amount of damage that is caused by a fire.
- CO2: A CO2 fire suppression system releases a blanket of CO2 gas which reduces the level of oxygen to prevent combustion from occurring. It is colorless and odorless, does not need much clean-up, and causes minimal disruption to your business.
- In-Rack: An in-rack fire sprinkler system is designed for the protection of stored materials. This system uses detectors that are placed in close proximity to the stored materials. If a fire is detected, the sprinkler system is able to contain the fire within a small area, so the fire can be extinguished before it reaches and damages adjacent materials or equipment.
- Water Mist: A water mist system uses small amounts of water to cool the flames and displace oxygen. This type of fire protection system lowers the amount of water damage to your building compared to other water-based systems.
- Deluge Systems: A deluge system is a system designed where the sprinklers are open. All the heat sensing elements are removed from a sprinkler system so the system is triggered by an alarm and water will fill the pipes and spray over the entire hazard area simultaneously. This type of system is typically used in chemical storage facilities and power plants where you could have a rapidly developing fire and the hazard needs complete coverage.
- Pre-Action System: A pre-action system is where the system requires some type of pre-action before the sprinkler system goes from a dry pipe system to a wet pipe system. If a fire alarm is triggered or pulled, water will fill the system and be ready to protect whatever area needs protecting. This type of system is used often in a facility that is protecting highly sensitive materials and needs a system that will protect from accidental water discharge.
- High Expansion Foam Systems: A high expansions foam system is a fire protection system that simply fills up an enclosed space with rapidly expanding foam to completely overwhelm the fire. This type of system is highly successful in protecting airport hangars and high combustible storage facilities from a catastrophic fire.
- Foam Water Sprinkler System: A foam water sprinkler system uses low expansion foam and water to spray out of sprinkler heads to put out fires. This type of system is typically used for facilities that deal with flammable liquids or hazards that that can be protected by a low expansion foam system versus using the high expansion system.
- Clean Agent Systems: A clean agent system is where inert gases or chemical agents are used to extinguish a fire. This type of system does not leave any residue, nor does it cause any damage, so it can be used in environments with sensitive or delicate equipment or assets, such as data storage facilities and the like.
Working with Reliance
At Reliance Fire Protection, we work with building managers in commercial, historic, industrial, and institutional environments. We offer a variety of services, such as fire alarm and fire sprinkler installation as well as special hazards fire protection systems. We are committed to designing the best fire protection system for your facility.
Our team of NICET certified technicians will assist you with testing, inspection, and maintenance for your fire protection system. Reliance is your 24/7 alarm monitoring company and emergency response team for any issue that may arise. You can count on us to help you during your time of need, whether it is a problem with your fire protection systems or in the event of a fire. You can set up a maintenance contract with Reliance Fire Protection for the regular inspection and testing of your fire alarm and fire sprinkler systems. We also provide educational services for building managers. These services include training on existing systems and Lunch and Learn training sessions about fire protection in general.
Reliance Fire Protection has been serving the Baltimore, Maryland and Washington D.C. areas for 30 years. Contact us for more information about our full-service fire protection services