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Automatic Sprinklers Protect Against Property and Human Losses

Automatic sprinkler systems have been used in the United States since 1874. Initially, sprinkler systems were used in industrial factories to reduce and/or eliminate property losses and human deaths. Today, sprinkler systems are used in a number of applications, including hotels, apartments, malls, and hospitals. At Pekin Insurance, we generally see sprinkler systems in hotels, apartments, and retail stores. There are many types of automatic sprinkler systems, including wet-type, dry-type, deluge, pre-action, foam water, water spray, and water mist systems. For the purposes of this article, we will talk about the most common system, which is the wet-type system.

Wet-type systems have water-filled piping under a specific pressure. Closed-head sprinklers strategically placed throughout the building ceiling eventually deliver the water in the event of a fire. The sprinkler head is held closed by a heat-sensitive glass bulb or a two-part metal link held together with a fusible alloy. One of the great myths of the sprinkler system is that all the sprinkler heads open whenever a fire occurs in a building. In fact, sprinkler systems are designed to control the fire with as few sprinkler heads opening as possible (which also allows the most water pressure to be applied at the point of the fire). The sprinkler head, whether glass bulb or metal link, is designed to open when heat is applied to the head.

From a loss control standpoint, some of the most important items we look for with a sprinkler system include:

• Maintenance of the system.
• Monitoring of the system.
• General deficiencies with the system.

As far as maintenance, we look for quarterly testing of the sprinkler system by a qualified contractor or responsible employee to ensure that the sprinkler system is fully functional. Testing should be in accordance with NFPA 25 and include verification that the valve is in the open position, a waterflow alarm test, and a full-flow two-inch drain test. Results should be recorded for comparison purposes. We like to see that the automatic sprinkler system is monitored by a central station alarm system that will alert the local fire department in the event that the sprinklers activate because of a fire. This is important to minimize water damage once the fire is under control. Some of the more common deficiencies that we encounter include the main control valve not being locked in the open position, inadequate water pressure in the system, missing caps on the fire department connection, and a lack of spare sprinkler heads near the main control valve.

Generally, automatic sprinklers are by far the best protection against building fires. When they are properly maintained, they can save human life and property.

Mike Goodman
Senior Loss Control Representative

Call Toll-Free 1-800-322-0160