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Just because the toilets are flushing and the taps are running without issue does not mean it is safe to presume the water supply to the fire sprinkler system is good to go.
Proper sprinkler operation is only ensured through proper and routine maintenance of the system. It's like flossing your teeth — you just have to do it. But when you skip a flossing you don't risk getting caught on the wrong end of a lawsuit or have imperiled lives, so it behooves facility managers to stay on top of their maintenance.
One step is a visual inspection of the sprinkler heads. These can fail to operate due to being painted over, clogged or blocked, says Chris Jelenewicz, program manager, Society of Fire Protection Engineers, in a recent Building Operating Management article. He has even seen a situation where a dropped ceiling was installed without moving the location of the sprinkler heads below the new ceiling heights.
Another step is the main drain test. After establishing a baseline pressure reading, subsequent readings will show if there's a significant drop in pressure. Drops in pressure could be caused by partially shut valves in the underground supply, which would starve the fire sprinkler system of adequate pressure while still seeming adequate in other applications, such as toilet flushing. Another cause could be corrosion in the system, which would interfere with moving high volumes of water at high pressure, he says.
Proper documentation is another important component of testing. Record what tests were conducted when, what the findings were and what is the proposed course of remediation for any issues uncovered.
Hopefully, the fire sprinkler system will never be called into action. But — to borrow the catch phrase from a certain insurance agency — in the event of a fire you won't want to hope the fire sprinkler system is ready. You'll want to know so.
Find the article here.