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Reference Section

Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems


a report by

Ian Gough
Technical Advisor, British Automatic Sprinkler Association (BASA)

Ian Gough Ian Gough is a Technical Advisor for the British Automatic Sprinkler Association (BASA). He joined the fire service in 1972 and served for over 31 years reaching the rank of Senior Divisional Officer. He was the lead officer throughout in the City Logistics versus County Fire Officer case in the Court of Appeal and has consequently been a member of the joint Chief and Assistant Chief Fire Officers Association (CACFOA) and Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) working party, reviewing fire safety guidance to warehouse owners and operators. He also lectured on this topic at an All Party Parliamentary Seminar in June 2002. Mr Gough has written a number of articles on a variety of fire safety topics, most recently about fire precautions in residential care homes published by the Fire Protection Association (November 2004). Having retired from the fire service in July 2004, Mr Gough continues to work as a fire safety consultant.

Introduction

Sprinkler systems have been proven in use for well over 100 years and over 40 million sprinklers are fitted worldwide each year. Possibly the oldest in Britain was fitted in 1812 at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, London, and in its updated form is still in use today. European statistics over a 10-year period reveal that losses from fires in buildings protected with sprinklers are estimated to be 1/10 of those in unprotected buildings. Furthermore, in buildings fully protected by sprinklers: 99% of fires were controlled by sprinklers alone; and 60% of fires were controlled by the spray from no more than four sprinklers. Unfortunately, one of the many reasons that are given by building owners or managers for not installing fire sprinkler systems is the worry of accidental operation and fear of water damage. Loss Prevention Council (LPC) data, however, reveals that accidental discharge of water due to manufacturing defects is one in 14 million (per year of service).
How Sprinklers Work

The sprinkler heads are spaced and pipework sized according to hydraulic calculations, so that if one or more operate there is always sufficient flow and density of water discharged. The design and calculations take into account the size and construction of the building, the category of goods stored in it and the occupancy. Sprinkler heads can be placed in enclosed roof spaces and into floor ducts to protect areas where a fire can start without being noticed. At the point where the water enters the sprinkler system there is a valve. This can be used to shut off the system for maintenance. For safety reasons it is kept locked open and only authorised persons should be able to close it. If a sprinkler opens and water flows through the valve it lets water into another pipe that causes an alarm bell to ring. In this way the sprinkler system both controls the fire and gives an alarm using water, not electricity. Pipework can be in steel, copper or chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC), but limitations to the use of copper and CPVC apply. If water pressure and flow are adequate then, it is possible that the sprinkler system can be connected (subject to the approval of the water supplier) directly to the service main where it enters the premises. Automatic fire sprinkler installations are designed for four main types of system: Wet pipe These are the most common systems and are used in buildings where there is no risk of freezing. They are quick to react because water under pressure is always in the pipework. Wet pipe systems are required for multi-storey or high-rise buildings and for life safety, such as those installed in shopping centres. Dry pipe The pipework above the control valves are filled with air or inert gas under pressure at all times and below the control valves the pipework is charged with water. When a sprinkler head operates, the

A grid of pipework covers all areas of the building to be protected with sprinkler heads fitted into them at regular intervals. Water for the system can be pumped from a storage cistern or taken directly from the town main (if it can provide sufficient pressure and flow). A sprinkler head will operate, either by the glass bulb bursting or solder melting, when the temperature is reached for the specific sprinkler head (usually 68C), which releases water onto the fire. The hot gases from a fire are usually enough to make it operate. Only the sprinklers over the fire operate. The others remain closed. This limits any damage to areas where there is no fire and reduces the amount of water discharged.

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Automatic Fire Sprinkler Systems


drop in pressure opens the valve and water flows into the pipework and through the activated sprinkler head onto the fire. Dry pipe systems are used where there is a risk of frost damage or the temperature exceeds 70C (e.g. drying ovens). It is strongly recommended that high hazard storage should not be protected by dry or alternate systems, since the delay in water getting into the pipework could impair the effectiveness of the system. Alternate As the name suggests, alternate systems can have the pipes full of water for the summer and be drained down and filled with air (under pressure) for the winter. This is important for buildings that are not heated. Pre-action Like dry pipe systems the pipework is filled with air but water is only let into the pipework when a detector operates (e.g. smoke detectors). Preaction systems are used where it is not acceptable to have the pipes full of water until there is a fire (e.g. computer suites).
Design and Installation Loss Prevention Subcommittee 1048 Scheme

To qualify for insurance discounts on sprinklered premises, all installations must be designed and installed by approved contractors. The names of such companies, who have been audited and assessed by the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB) as being competent, can be found in the Red Book (List of Approved Fire and Security Products and Services) published by BRE Certification Ltd. The standards require routine maintenance and checks to be carried out by the user or installer of a sprinkler system. Details of these routines weekly, monthly, quarterly, half-yearly, yearly, three-yearly, 10-yearly and 25-yearly, are to be found in the Standards. It is important to note that a certificate of conformity only remains valid whilst a maintenance contract is in place. There are also procedures set out in TB203 relating specifically to planned maintenance. To ensure the effectiveness of a system it must be properly designed, installed and maintained in accordance with the aforementioned Standards. The independently accredited LPCB publishes standards for sprinkler systems incorporating British standards. If a system is put in by a company approved by the LPCB, it can be given a certificate of conformity to confirm that it is correctly installed. Certificates of conformity are proof that a system meets the professional standards of performance and quality. Only installers recognised by the LPCB can put in systems and issue their certificate of conformity. The certificate is proof to fire brigades, local authorities and insurance companies that the system meets the sprinkler rules. It is also third-party verification for the owner that the system runs to the correct standard.
Water Supplies

Since the publication of the LPC rules incorporating BS 5306: Part 2 in 1990 (amended 1998), sprinklers have been recognised as providing a vital life safety function in controlling the size of a fire and allowing more time for occupants to escape. More recently, systems have been introduced that are intended for the protection of life in domestic and residential property and that are currently designed and installed to BS DD 251, 2000. With the introduction of harmonised European standards, it is intended that BS EN 12845:2003 be only used from 2006. The BS EN12845:2003 is the British version of the CEN (European Committee for Standardisation) standard dealing with the design, installation and maintenance of sprinkler systems and incorporates some of the technical bulletins which originally supplemented BS 5306: Part 2. Furthermore, by reference to the published LPC rules for automatic sprinkler installations, incorporating BS EN 12845, users will find the major differences between the two parts of the sprinkler rules listed, together with additional Technical Bulletins, now numbered from TB201 to 223 inclusive. With such potentially vitally important life safety systems, however, the demand for third-party approval of design and installation has resulted in the LPC introducing their LPC 1048 scheme.

For operational reasons, including the minimising of leakage, the reduction of disruption from burst mains and the reduction of power usage, water suppliers actively manage water pressures in the mains network. In doing so it is the water suppliers aim to manage water pressure to a level commensurate with providing an adequate supply to domestic customers whilst meeting regulatory standards. Due to the importance of automatic fire sprinklers as an efficient means of detecting and controlling or extinguishing fires before they become a significant threat to life, property and the environment, coupled with economic use of water, it is important that all parties concerned co-ordinate their efforts in

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Reference Section

dealing with water supply issues, both for maintaining the effectiveness of existing systems and for ensuring that new systems are installed and maintained correctly. The British Automatic Sprinkler Association together with the Fire Sprinkler Association and Water UK has produced technical guidance in the form of

Guidelines for the Supply of Water to Fire Sprinkler Systems. This is published by the Fire Protection Association (FPA) and is a significant step forward particularly in view of the demand by fire brigades and others, for the increased use of sprinklers in residential properties and as an alternative approach to satisfying structural fire requirements of the Building Regulations 2000.

BUSINESS BRIEFING: HOSPITAL ENGINEERING & FACILITIES MANAGEMENT 2005