Fire protection equipment is especially vulnerable when arctic temperatures affect a building. If pipes freeze, a business or school could be forced to close temporarily if life safety cannot be assured. Failure or disruption of these important fire protection systems can also be expensive to repair.
Certain types of buildings and occupancies are more susceptible in extreme cold, and when they do experience a freeze, the damage can be greater than in other types of buildings. Some buildings are designed to make use of heat generated by human occupants. When vacant for long periods during extreme cold, the temperature can drop below freezing.
ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE BUILDINGS
Churches, schools and multi-tenant mercantile buildings are especially at risk when they are unoccupied for several days at a time, especially during a holiday break or recess.
Fire protection equipment including water mains, extinguishers, hydrants, sprinkler systems and post indicator valves can be extremely vulnerable to drops in temperature during severe winter weather. Post indicator valves are the cast iron vertical indicator posts designed to operate the control valve of an automatic fire sprinkler system. If a fire occurs, frozen equipment could result in insufficient means to contain the fire.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
To protect your property, verify that all fire protection equipment is operating effectively, and if it is brought offline or damaged, have a qualified fire protection contractor repair the system and place it back into service.
- Plan for maintenance personnel to manage and monitor buildings during cold snaps, making more frequent visits to buildings or areas of buildings not normally occupied.
- Be certain that hydrants and their locations are properly marked so they may be easily located and cleared after a heavy snowstorm.
- Inspect all areas along the perimeter of the building to ensure they are sealed and there are no drafty areas.
- Drain wall hydrants and fire pump test connections that may be exposed to freezing.
- Verify that underground water mains have adequate depth of cover. For water mains that do not have adequate cover, ask if they be isolated and shut off to protect from freezing.
- Check packing on post indicator control valves for leaking, and repair as necessary.
- If fire pump suction is from a reservoir, make certain that the in-flow pipe is below the frost level (below grade) and deep enough in the water to prevent ice clogging the intake.
- Provide heat for dry-pipe sprinkler system enclosures. Make sure space heaters are in good operating condition.
- Test solutions in all anti-freeze sprinkler systems and add anti-freeze as necessary.
- Inspect and maintain all sprinkler systems in accordance with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA 13) and local standards.
This loss control information is advisory only. The author assumes no responsibility for management or control of loss control activities. Not all exposures are identified in this article.