3 FM quick reads on fire sprinklers
1. Health Care Fire Sprinkler Code Considerations
Here are some fire sprinkler codes to keep in mind when thinking about fire safety in health care occupancies.
In 1991, NFPA 101 mandated automatic sprinklers in new health care occupancies. In the 1996 edition of NFPA 13: Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems, quick response automatic sprinklers were required for all light hazard occupancies including health care.
The unique feature of quick response sprinklers is the faster thermal response to heat. These sprinklers will activate three to five times faster than a normal response automatic sprinkler. This translates to a much smaller fire size at the time of automatic sprinkler activation. Smaller fires generate less heat and smoke.
Renovation, modifications, reconstruction and additions also require the installation of automatic sprinklers. The reliability and robustness of automatic sprinkler protection is addressed in NFPA 101, NFPA 13 and NFPA 25: Standard for the Inspection, Testing, and Maintenance of Water-Based Fire Protection Systems.
NFPA 101 requires the automatic sprinkler system to be electronically supervised and designed in accordance with NFPA 13. NFPA 25 addresses the required inspection, testing and maintenance of all components of the system. The electronic supervision increases the reliability of the automatic sprinklers in health care occupancies. (Most other occupancies do not require this electronic supervision.)
Proper hydraulic design as required by NFPA 13 will provide the robustness to address the typical fire challenges in a health care occupancy. Recent NFPA automatic sprinkler fire data shows that, in sprinklered health care facilities, 99 percent of the fires are contained to the room where the fire started.
2. Fire Sprinklers Statistics in Commercial Property
In the May 2011 National Fire Protection Association report entitled U.S. Experience with Sprinklers, one trend is the steady rise of automatic fire extinguishing equipment across all property types. The term "automatic fire extinguishing equipment" is misleading, says the report, "because most such equipment is designed to control fires and not to fully extinguish them."
In educational property, automatic fire extinguishing equipment was reported in 39 percent of fires between 2005 and 2009, compared to 24 percent between 1994 and 1998. In office space, it rose from 25 percent to 33 percent in the same time periods. In health care, it went from 58 percent to 64 percent.
In a few property types for fires reported between 2005 and 2009, fire sprinkler systems were reported in about half of them. These include dorms and barracks (51 percent), prisons and jails (50 percent), hotels and motels (49 percent), and manufacturing facilities (48 percent).
In every other property type with reported fires, sprinklers were not reported in at least 60 percent of the fires. Office fires between 2005 and 2009 reported a 30 percent sprinkler presence and educational properties reported a 34 percent presence, which makes up the majority of the automatic fire extinguishing equipment presence reported in both property types.
Find a copy of the U.S. Experience with Sprinklers report at http://www.nfpa.org/assets/files/PDF/OS.sprinklers.pdf
3. Fire Sprinkler Retrofits in Existing Buildings
Once the decision is made to retrofit a building with a fire sprinkler system, there is a lot to keep in mind. It starts with a good survey of the building's relevant features and constraints. Finding out there's an obstruction while in the midst of a retrofit could lead to costly change orders.
Take the water supply, for example. To meet domestic needs, there is probably only a 2-inch pipe coming into the building, but to meet the needs of a sprinkler system, you'll need a 6-inch or 8-inch pipe. If the water pressure is insufficient, a fire pump and the room to house it — at least a 10-foot-square space — will be needed. If municipal water demand cannot meet the sprinkler system demand, a water tank may be required.
The interaction with existing safety systems must also be taken into account. Sprinklers are part of the whole system, interfacing with the alarms, the smoke management system, the paths of egress. For example, it's not safe to assume the existing fire alarm system will work with the fire sprinkler system. Tamper switches and flow switches will need to be connected so that once the sprinkler goes off, it will send a signal to the fire alarm system.