Ways to Control Closing Of Water Supply Valves
Industrial Fire Safety
In the last few years an industrial fire protection problem has reared its ugly head and is on the increase.
It is the unauthorized closing of water supply and sprinkler valves. These valves may be on city mains, private undergrounds, in pump houses and on sprinkler systems. When these valves are closed, plant hydrants and sprinkler systems do not get water and any fire can cause extensive damage.
Here are some closed valve incidents: City water main closed for repairs a block away from factory and never fully opened upon completion of work. Interior OS&Y sprinkler valve controlling 400 sprinkler heads closed for no known reason. Fire pump suction valve closed with no record of the reason. Closed-in-winter type wet sprinkler system valve never turned back on in the spring. Yard post indicator valve found closed even when its target indicator read “open.”
Everyone involved: Who can be involved in the bad effects, including the publicity, of a closed valve incident? One of course is the firm or firms occupying the destroyed structure. Others could be the fire equipment installer because it is easy for nonprofessionals to point a finger and say, “Well, these sprinklers failed,” which is not true. The responding fire department would certainly suffer when the building is lost through no fault of its own. It is a common thing for the public to say, without knowing the facts, “Oh well, looks like they saved another foundation.”
The employees also are involved as fire may mean loss of income until the plant reopens or employees get other jobs. When a plant burns, families and local businesses also suffer due to a drop in buying power. The fire insurance company insuring the risk is a part of the picture as it means the payment of a loss, especially when it should not have happened.
Recommendations: Now that the problem and Jhe severity of it has been defined, we need to know what steps can be taken to prevent these incidents from happening. Our suggestions and recommendations are as follows:
- Using printed educational material, posters, films and short discussion sessions, explore the closed valve problem with all employees so that they can understand the foolishness of a wrongfully closed valve, its meaning to them and the need to report closed valves immediately to a proper plant authority in order to prevent a loss. In other words, let people know management cares.
- Require weekly inspections of all valves by qualified inspectors. When post indicator valves are checked, they must be physically tried and a spring or return felt by the inspector as an indication that valve is open. Visible targets, reading “open” or “closed” on valve barrels cannot be relied upon as they can slip and give false indications of valve conditions.
- To assure the porper operation of all control valves, the number of turns required to fully open or close them should be indicated on the valve barrel housing or in the valve room and also on inspectors’ sheets. Valves of the same manufacturer, as well as those of other suppliers, often require a different number of turns for opening and closing.
- A tag must be placed on the closed valve of any wet sprinkler system that must be drained and kept dry during the winter and record must be kept in the maintenance department to make certain that the valve will be opened in a fire emergency and after the cold weather ends. However, it is preferable to change such wet system over to a dry one and thereby remove the possibility of the valve becoming a lost one. Sometimes these small systems can also be protected and valve left open all year j round if they are filled with an antifreeze solution, but in some areas this is now being prohibited because of water pollution control regulations.
- When any outside public water supply impairment or closure is known to have occurred, including, of course, one on your own property, a 2-inch drain test needs to be made at the sprinkler riser. If the inspector notes that the original water pressure reading does not return, or does so very slowly after the test, this is usually an indication of a closed or partially closed water supply main valve. When this happens, an investigation must be started at once to find the fault and correct it.
- Security measures of various degrees are necessary to prevent the careless or deliberate sabotaging of control valves. The following are a few suggestions: (a) Secure all valves with braided wire and lead seals so that they can be tried but not tampered with, (b) Use heavy-duty padlocks with hardened steel shackles to lock valves open. Use chain of the same quality if necessary. Pits can be secured by using hasps and locking covers. These locks must be keyed alike with key distribution kept to a minimum. One key should be kept by the responding fire department. It is also advisable to keep a pair of bolt cutters on the premises and in the hands of a trusted employee for possible use in an emergency.(c) On all valves, install electronic devices that will transmit a signal to an attended plant alarm panel or to a supervised central station in your town when an attempt is made to close a valve. These devices and signs stating their purpose on valves are a great deterrent to vandalism. If a valve must be closed for any authorized reason, then panel supervisors are notified of impairment. When repairs are completed, supervisors are again notified so they will regard a subsequent alarm signal as valid.
- The weekly running of fire pumps will quickly indicate water suction problems and any fault found can then be quickly remedied.
- A three-part impairment tag system is used by major insurance underwriters in an attempt to control the shut-valve problem. One section hangs on the impaired item, one is sent to the insurance company to notify them of same and a third section is mailed to notify them of completed work. This system can be devised to work within a self-supervised plant premises.
- When making new installations or replacements on yard post indicator control valves, the new types of assemblies are much more fail-safe than the target type and should be used. A call to a local supplier will get you information on the two now available.
- My concluding recommendations are to recognize the problem, make inspections, correct the faults found, obtain management backing of educational programs, install security devices and live with the knowledge that when everyone cooperates, an all-out effort to save lives and prevent fire losses will work.