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Fire suppression system 101 for commercial property owners

By Higginbotham on June 03 , 2020

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Every year, fire consumes thousands of businesses. Some never recover. In 2018, fire departments in the U.S. responded to approximately 1,313,500 fires resulting in $25.6 billion in direct property loss, according to the National Fire Protection Association 

There’s a new structure fire about every 63 seconds. The next one could be at your business, so make sure you’ve protected it with the correct fire suppression system and sprinklers that are properly maintained and inspected.  

Fire Suppression System Classifications 

Not all fires are the same, and not all fire suppression systems are the same, either. It’s important to pick a fire suppression system that is appropriate for your property.  

Here are some of the different types of fire suppression systems commonly used: 

  • Wet sprinkler systems disperse water within the area where a fire has started. The fire sprinkler head is triggered by heat, thus releasing water. The goal is to extinguish or control the fire until firefighting professionals arrive. According to the National Fire Protection Agency, sprinkler systems are highly effective and reliable, and the death rate per 1,000 reported fires is 87 percent lower in properties that have sprinklers compared to properties with no automatic extinguishing system. Sprinklers are often found in health care occupancies, restaurants, retail operations, office buildings and prisons. There are different types of sprinklers, most commonly including wet pipe and dry pipe sprinklers. Other types include deluge sprinklers and foam sprinklerswhich are used for special operations. 

  • Carbon dioxide systems work by depriving a fire of oxygen. According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agencycarbon dioxide fire suppression systems are commonly used to extinguish equipment found in server rooms, printing areas, flammable liquid storage areas, spray booths, marine vessels, rolling mills, dust collectors, power generator areas and metal production areas. CO2 systems are very cost-effective and can quickly and effectively smother fires caused by a variety of hazards, including highly combustible materials.

  • Chemical clean agent systems use gas or chemical agents to extinguish a fire. These systems are similar to carbon dioxide systems, but they use different gases to put out the fire. Dry chemical fire suppression systems are primarily used in large, industrial applications like chemical storage, petrochemical loading and off-loading facilities, auto paint booths, dip tanks, mixing rooms, open-faced booths and more.

  • Kitchen fire suppression systems are used for commercial kitchens in restaurants. Kitchen appliances have a high risk of fire, and kitchen fire suppression systems target the cooking appliances to extinguish fires quickly.   

NFPA Sprinkler Maintenance and Inspection Requirements 

All fire suppression systemare required to be inspected and tested annually to ensure that they'll work properly when they're needed.  

NFPA 25 establishes minimum standards for inspection, testing and maintenance of water-based suppression systems, and NFPA 17 sets the standards for inspection, testing and maintenance for chemical extinguishing systems. Many states use these standards in their codes. Under the NFPA 25 and NFPA 17 standards, inspections and tests of sprinkler systems must be performed on a regular schedule, for example, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.  

In addition to meeting the NFPA requirements, it's also important to meet local requirements. For example, according to the NFPA FAQ, NFPA 25 does not require licensing in order to perform testing or maintenance on water-based fire suppression systems; however, many state and local jurisdictions do have licensing or certification requirements. It is advised that a licensed contractor perform maintenance, inspection and testing. 

Have questions? Consult with our risk management professionals. 

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