Sprinkler Systems— Their Relation to Salvage
OVERHAUL AND SALVAGE …
IN THEORY AND PRACTICE
—New York Fire Patrol photo
AS FIRE FIGHTERS KNOW, the primary purpose of an automatic sprinkler system is to protect life and property. There are several kinds of systems, designed for different types of occupancies and hazards, all of which present opportunities for salvage operations, both in cases of fire and sprinkler leakage or other failure.
Although serious fires seldom occur in properties completely protected with properly maintained automatic sprinkler systems, the very act of extinguishing a fire and of preventing its extension, may result in heavy property loss through water damage.
As is pointed out by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA National Fire Code IV-1954 ed.), “Automatic sprinkler systems employing standard devices and installed in accordance with established rules are sturdy and durable, and require a minimum of expenditure for maintenance. However, like other types of equipment, they may suffer deterioration or impairment through neglect or from certain conditions of service. Definite provision for regular and competent attention to maintenance is a prime requirement if the system is to serve its purpose effectively.” It is recommended that all fire fighters and those responsible for salvage operations study NBFU pamphlet No. 13—August 1955, “Standards for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems” as recommended by the National Fire Protection Association. This contains a list of standards dealing with subjects related to sprinkler systems. Pamphlet 13 may be secured from the National Board of Fire Underwriters, 85 John St., New York 38, N. Y. The same data is contained in National Fire Codes I to VI published by the National Fire Protection Association, 65 Batterymarch St., Boston 10, Mass.
Fire departments, particularly those which practice salvage operations of any kind, should be familiar with all the different types of sprinkler systems in their areas, their installation, operation and maintenance. Usually it is the fire department which is first called upon in time of sprinkler leakage. Upon the knowledge of the members of the fire department of sprinkler installation, layout, water supply, supervision and maintenance may depend the success or failure not only in stopping a fire with minimum property loss but also in limiting the water damage due to sprinkler failure from whatever cause.
Not only should the fire department (including the salvagemen) be notified of the installation of automatic sprinkler equipment but they should become familiar with the layout of the system, the extent of the protection and location and arrangement of the control valves and connections for fire department use. When fire occurs in a sprinklered building operating heads should be located as quickly as possible by the company officer and salvage work started directly below, as described in previous chapters of this series.
Resetting sprinkler heads
A cardinal rule in sprinkler operations is that sprinkler equipment should be turned off only upon orders of the officer in charge, and only after it has definitely determined that the fire is out. In time of fire, the fire department is in charge of the building and is responsible for the operation of the sprinkler system. It is not considered good judgment to leave to a watchman or other building emplpyee the responsibility of shutting down, or restoring the sprinkler system which has been in use.
The use of sprinkler “stops” such as tongs, plugs or other shutoffs is only an emergency operation for temporarily closing the discharge openings in the system until the water can be shut off at the proper control valves and new heads inserted to replace those opened. It is well to remember that it takes time to shut off a sprinkler control valve, especially when it is located some distance from the sprinkler head or heads in question. With the average sprinkler head discharging approximately 25 gallons of water per minute, and considering the susceptibility of so many different kinds of stock to water damage, it can be seen that efficient salvage operations call for the utmost speed possible in shutting off sprinkler flow after it has been been determined that there is no further chance of the system being required for fire extinguishment. On the other hand, to precipitate a shutdown may prove disastrous should the fire rekindle and spread (the histories of many large files attest this importance).
Resetting of heads and restoring the sprinkler system must of course take into consideration whether it is wet or dry pipe installation. In general, salvage squads will restore wet systems but as a rule they notify the owner to secure emergency service for a dry pipe system.
The illustrations show some common types of sprinkler shutoffs in use today.
Pre-fire inspection helps
As has been previously emphasized, salvage can benefit effectively from regular inspection procedures carried out by fire departments. This is particularly true in relation to automatic sprinkler installations. A general knowledge of the location, nature, and extent of sprinkler installation in a fire company’s area will assist in determining fire fighting strategy as well as salvage procedures that may be applied to cut losses due to water damage, if and when fire occurs.
The National Automatic Sprinkler and Fire Control Association recommends several steps that a fire department may take to help curtail the water damage resulting from sprinkler operation, either at a fire or from system mishap or failure. Failures are generally due to physical damage to the sprinkler system and more than likely are caused by human carelessness.
The Association recommends that all sprinkler contractors provide the local fire department with a plot plan of new installations in order that the firemen may acquaint themselves with the location of the necessary control valves, fire department connections, etc. A follow-up inspection of the system may then be made by the fire department to gain a first-hand acquaintance with the particular installation. If the contractor has not supplied a plot plan, then alert fire inspectors may sketch the necessary details for further study by the members concerned.
A second recommendation is that all salvage squads carry sprinkler head wrenches and an assortment of heads. These materials can be obtained originally from sprinkler contractors, generally at no charge, and carried on responding apparatus.
When sprinkler systems are restored to working order before returning to quarters, it is very important that the replacement heads have the same temperature rating as the original. If the sprinkler system is of the flush or pendent type, replacement of the head may be impossible unless salvagemen are specially equipped for the task. In the event immediate replacement is impossible, the Association recommends that the sprinkler head be plugged and the owner notified to obtain emergency service. If a department uses a head to restore a system to working order, it may usually obtain replacement of the necessary materials by applying to any sprinkler contractor who will supply the necessary heads and bill the property owner for the cost. This is a standard practice in the industry.
The Association further recommends that heads be replaced rather than sprinkler stops or tongs be used. While it is necessary at times to plug a head (as previously stated), it is not considered the best practice because of the possibility for human error. Replacing the head immediately with the proper type unit places the entire system back in working order and overcomes the loss of protection at the point of replacement.
Storage rules important
Applying common sense in the storage of materials so as to obtain the maximum protection from the sprinklers can further salvage operations should the sprinklers open. High piles of merchandise and stock can render ineffective the best sprinkler streams, and at the same time increase the problem of spreading salvage covers. While 12 inches is generally accepted as the bare minimum clearance, it is preferable to allow two or three feet above all stock piles to insure better sprinkler action. At the same time, the greater clearance will allow salvage squads to more quickly spread covers to protect the material in case of water flow. Proper skidding of the stock is another essential factor in anticipating sprinkler action. It will allow drainage of runoff water with minimum damage, as has been pointed out in an earlier chapter. Floor drains and scuppers afford a quick and easy way to remove surplus water. Inspectors will do well to emphasize these factors to managers or other officials of sprinklercd buildings and to note the method of stock-piling and relate their findings to salvage plans as well as to fire fighting strategy. Observation will disclose whether or not shelving or other fixtures have been so installed as to impair the efficient operation of sprinkler heads.
Training in sprinklers essential
All professional salvage corpsmen are thoroughly indoctrinated in the different kinds and types of sprinkler systems, their installation, operation and maintenance. Most of the Underwriter’s salvage corps have sprinkler control mechanism in their quarters upon which their men trained. A number of fire colleges and schools also have such mechanical equipment, or large-scale cutaway charts and diagrams of systems.
This extensive instruction in sprinkler application is not always available in smaller communities where there are few buildings equipped with sprinklers and where as a result, investment in such training facilities is impractical. However, even though a community has but one or a few sprinklered buildings, knowledge of sprinkler systems, their use and abuse, is essential to modern fire fighting and salvage operations.
Where it is impossible for a volunteer, or part-paid fire department to conduct its own training in the sprinkler field, and in its relation to salvage, it may be possible to secure the necessary fundamental information from the nearest fullpaid municipal department. Helpful data also may be secured from the Sprinkler Association, the National Board of Fire Underwriters, National Fire Protection Association and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Training curricula should include not only automatic sprinkler systems but their relation to fire detection systems, supervisory service, watchmen’s service, etc.