FX103 SERIES | SITE VISITS FOR INSPECTORS & INSURERS
How To Inspect for General Conditions?
INSPECTIONS FOR GENERAL CONDITIONS
We’re continuing on how to inspect for various items during an insurer site visit to an existing facility, however, many of these items overlap with regular inspections on the part of the fire service. Today we’re talking about big-picture, general conditions.
In addition to all specific items to be checked during a visual inspection, such as obstruction or sprinkler orientation, there should be a look at the general condition of the system.
Sometimes it may be more a gut feeling about whether the system seems to be well maintained, but some deviations can be easily spotted.
One such spot check is looking at the sprinklers themselves. Things to check include damaged or painted sprinklers, sprinklers and sprinkler pipe covered with dust or oil deposits (which could be highly flammable in case of oil film, paper dust, linen or metallic dust and result in a quick spreading fire at the ceiling level that could operate many sprinklers and overtax the system’s design), corroded sprinklers, etc.
Pipe corrosion is problematic inside the piping, much more than outside, and inside corrosion is difficult to assess from a visual site inspection. But sometimes, evidence of heavy inside corrosion can be found, in particular with Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC), where pinhole leaks appear on sprinkler piping or corroded protuberances at fittings.
If there has been a lot of recent repair or emergency work completed on the system, then corrosion could be a cause. Corrosion isn’t limited to areas with MIC – most corrosion is oxygen-induced.
Corrosion could be affecting the system if there are pipe repair sleeves left in place, or if there are many pipe sections that are patched-in alongside older portions of the system. This can be pretty obvious when the original pipe is all painted and the new patched-in pipe is only primed.
For dry-pipe and pre-action systems, if an air compressor is cycling more often than before, there’s a chance it is losing more air pressure through leaks in the system due to corrosion.
With corrosion, over time, comes leaks and repair work. Any of these concerns may justify an internal pipe evaluation, to see how much corrosion has taken place and whether the system as a whole is significantly compromised.
MAINTENANCE & STORAGE
Missing or detached hangers, storage against sprinkler risers and control valves, and missing spare sprinklers in the spare storage cabinet can also be signs of a poorly maintained sprinkler installation. Poorly maintained systems could be compromised and not perform as they are expected.
We’ll cover this in more detail later, but changes in occupancy or storage could be an indication that the suppression system won’t meet the demands of the building. Does the sprinkler layout not match the walls and ceilings? Are pendent sprinklers suspended in midair? Are there significant storage hazards in a building with a pipe-schedule system? Any of these concepts could clue us in that there have been major changes without evaluating the sprinkler system.
The proper position of sprinkler control valves should be systematically checked. It’s not unusual to discover a sprinkler system impairment during an inspection. Of instances where sprinklers systems have failed to suppress a fire, closed valves and shutoff water supplies have been known to be a leading cause of failure.
Most sprinkler control valves are “indicating” type, which means their position can be determined just by looking at the valve. For butterfly type valves, this indicator is often in the form of a bright paddle which matches the direction of the gate in the water stream. A paddle that is parallel with the pipe path means the gate is in the open position, while a paddle that is perpendicular to the pipe path is in the closed position. OS&Y valves indicate their position by the stem of the valve. A valve raised high away from the pipe means that the gate is raised in an open position. When the temp is down low, the gate is in the closed position.
Signs, cables, and other systems should not be attached directly on sprinkler pipe. In some cases, the differences in material may be incompatible as is the case with some products and CPVC. In other cases, the concern is structural. Sprinkler pipe and support is designed to support itself with additional safety factor, but not designed to carry the weight of other systems.
Especially with exposed sprinkler systems, sometimes the temptation to use the pipe to hang other things is just too tempting. Even without exposed pipe, hanging clothes or decorations from sprinklers can also be too tough to pass up. During the end of the year, just as an example, it is not uncommon to find Christmas decorations attached directly to the pendent sprinklers in office areas.
As part of this check, the goal here is to gather a general sense or a “gut check” for the state of the sprinkler system. We’ll use this to help us dig further into the inspection and the recommendations that come out of the inspection.
I’m Franck Orset, this is MeyerFire University.
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