Buildings Buzz

Tips for Fire Sprinkler Maintenance


Imagine how startled you would be if you were awoken at 3:00 in the morning – after a long night – by a cold blast from your hotel room fire sprinkler.

Well, be glad that the sprinkler system is working because if it weren’t you’d be in big trouble. Tests show that small fires in average-sized rooms can ignite everything in it in less than two minutes.

As a facility manager it is essential to make sure your sprinkler system is properly maintained in order to ensure the health of your building and its occupants. If, for example, a painter tapes up a sprinkler head and then forgets to remove the painted tape, the performance of that sprinkler head could be in jeopardy. Similarly, when storage boxes are stacked too close to the ceiling, the sprinkler system may not function as it should. Still another sprinkler issue is if sprinkler heads are regularly exposed to high heat. Should you have such sprinklers, it might be wise to replace the sprinklers with sprinklers rated for higher heat.

“As a firefighter I am obviously, and most definitely, a fan of fire sprinkler systems. Last week we responded to a mixed use commercial building where a company that processes cinnamon scented pine cones had a fire overnight. With piles of pine cones stored inside, and thousands of gallons of combustible liquids (cinnamon oil fragrance) things could have been very, very, ugly. Yet it was controlled by one single sprinkler head. Though the building was charged with smoke, there was not a single piece of the structure that was damaged by the fire,” said David Nemeyer, Fire and Life Safety Division Chief, Forest Grove (Oregon) Fire & Rescue.

Tips for Proper Maintenance

1) Use visual communication
Placing signs on or near sprinkler equipment can alert and remind workers to the hazards of failing to leave valves in the preferred open position. Two-thirds of all fire mishaps are the result of sprinkler valves locked in the closed position.

2) Lock all control valves
The best way to ensure valve security is to lock all sprinkler control valves in the open position or by electronically supervising the valves through your fire alarm system. Although anti-tamper circuits will initiate a supervisory signal if someone closes a valve, switches will not prevent the closing of the valve. Use lockout devices on controls to eliminate tampering. Also, tamper switches can get out of adjustment and become inoperative with no visible indication of a problem. It is recommended that LO/TO signage is on all control valves to prevent unauthorized closure.


3) Known the standard
Fire sprinklers have been around since the National Fire Protection Agency was launched more than 100 years ago. The NFPA 25 standard was established to eliminate failures caused by faulty sprinkler maintenance.

"A sprinkler system is a mechanical system. NFPA 25 includes comprehensive requirements for properly maintaining each element of a sprinkler system including valves, pump units and the sprinklers themselves,” said Kerry M. Bell, principal engineer, Fire Sprinkler & Pump Equipment, UL LLC.

Sprinklers have an excellent record of protecting individuals and buildings from fire. It is true that no amount of fire protection can guarantee absolute protection. But understanding the hazards, and the careful selection and application of sprinklers and other fire protection systems, can sharply reduce the potential for fire damage. Don’t let myths and misconceptions keep you from including sprinklers as part of the fire protection system in your plant or facility.

Jack Rubinger is an industrial copywriter for Graphic Products, which specializes in thermal transfer printers. For more information, visit or email Jack Rubinger.

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