Standpipes: They’re Coming to the “Burbs”

By Christopher Flatley

In communities across the country, three- and four-story low-rise commercial buildings are popping up everywhere. The increase of “urban sprawl” has spread these buildings into so-called “bedroom” communities. Small and mid-size companies have migrated from the city and are occupying these buildings for several reasons. They can tap a valuable resource, personnel. In many areas, there is an abundant labor force of talented people who don’t want to commute into the city. Technology has played a role in this expansion as well. FAX, e-mail, and Internet service have reduced the need for a prestigious address. The price of office space is also more economical in the suburbs.

These low-rise, large-floor-area buildings often require a standpipe system for fire protection. The use of standpipes for firefighting is no longer a “big city” tactic. Suburban departments have had to develop strategies to operate in this type of building.

To successfully operate at a fire from a standpipe, we need to understand the type of system and its basic components. Standpipe systems can be either automatic or manual and wet or dry:

  • An automatic wet system will have a water main or gravity tank to supply it. This system will be capable of supplying water automatically to meet demand.
  • A manual wet system only has a small water supply to keep water in the system. This type relies on other sources (fire department connection) to supply water when in use.
  • A dry system would them be one normally without water. If the system is an automatic dry system, water is supplied through an automatic valve that opens when the air pressure in the pipe falls below a preset level. This is typical of combination sprinkler/standpipe systems in unheated parking garages.
  • A manual dry system is a “dry pipe” system that can only receive water from the fire department connection. This installation is most common in tunnels or on bridges where there is no accessible water supply, except from fire department apparatus. This system also must be drained after use to protect from freezing.

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