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Fire Protection Measures – Available When Needed? Part 2

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This blog ‘Fire Protection Measures – Available When Needed’ is Part 2 of 2. Link to Part 1 is –> here.

Fire protection features, such as: fire alarm systems, sprinkler systems, fire separations, portable extinguishers, etc., installed in a facility are provided with the hope that they never have to perform the functions for which they are intended. Those functions are mainly to detect and alarm, control, and suppress, unintended fires.

To help provide reasonable assurance that fire protection features will perform their intended functions when necessary when designing the features, they must be appropriate, effective and reliable.

Once installed, how do we know the fire protection features will work when needed. Typical building services such as plumbing systems, heating and ventilation systems, and electrical systems, are constantly in use.  If something is not working on those systems, such as a toilet not flushing or lights not working, the building occupants will notice and the deficiency gets corrected.  Not so with fire protection features.  They sit dormant for long periods of time just waiting for a fire to occur and are then expected to perform as intended when a fire happens.

That is why inspection, testing and maintenance is so important for fire protection systems and features.  Fire protection systems include both mechanical (e.g. automatic sprinklers and standpipe systems) and electrical systems (fire alarm and detection systems). Regardless of how well that are designed and installed, such systems are susceptible to failures at any time, and at multiple times, in their useful life span.

Proper maintenance of active fire protection systems to respond correctly to a legitimate fire event also helps to limit activation of a system due to other causes. False alarms of a fire alarm system can result in complacency, which could lead to increased injury or loss of life in a real fire event. Lack of, or improper, testing of antifreeze solutions in antifreeze sprinkler systems can result in a failure of the system, which can result in significant damages.

Although passive fire protection features, such as fire separations and rated assemblies, are not subject to mechanical or electrical failures, activities carried out within a building can damage the passive features, making them ineffective in controlling or resisting the spread or impacts of fire. Therefore, passive protection features must also be inspected and maintained.

The inspection of fire protection features also has a purpose in addition to confirming proper maintenance.  Inspections are also used to confirm that the features remain appropriate and effective per their design.  Factors that are inspected that could impact protection features ability to detect, control or extinguish a fire include:

  • Changes to the occupancy such as an increase in storage volume or a change from office to retail
  • Modifications to the building structure such as relocation of walls or mezzanine additions
  • Changes to the heating system allowing areas to become subject to freezing
  • Landscaping or exterior modifications changes that can block access to fire department connections.

Fire protection systems and features are typically quite reliable and in cases where they do fail it is often due to lack of, or improper, inspection, testing and maintenance.  To help ensure that the provided fire protection measures remain appropriate, effective and reliable throughout their service life, the facility owner should ensure that the required inspection, testing and maintenance requirements of the applicable codes and standards are included in the facility’s fire safety plan or fire protection program and that the appropriate activities are completed at the required frequencies.

PLC Fire Safety Engineering can provide assistance in determining the applicable inspection, testing and maintenance requirements and preparing a fire safety plan and/or fire protection programs for your facility.

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